In my mind, panorama viewers — just the viewer part — were one of the biggest hurdles in making panoramas more prevalent on the web (pls read Thoughts About Panoramic Photography (part 2) ). Even if you have an eat-your-heart-out-Ansel-Adams panorama shot, if you couldn’t share it on the internet then you’re screwed. And unfortunately, people are not trusting of plug-ins or standalones – it had to just work (I will talk about that in a bit). If you had to download anything, then the chances of someone seeing your content are slim.
I believe one of the first, if not the first, commercial/consumer panorama viewer was QuickTime VR by Shencheng Eric Chen. He published a paper in 1995 in SIGGRAPH describing QTVR. Another notable is Helmut Dersch, the creator of Panorama Tools in 1998. Focusing on just the viewer part, he had a PTViewer which was java based.
Unfortunately, neither QuickTime VR nor Java had (and even the present tense “has”) the penetration to enable users to view the panoramas. (If 1 in 3 or 4 cannot view your content on the web, it looks broken.) Check out Rich Internet Application Statistics page — got some pretty wonderful numbers there.
Now let’s talk about Flash and how it made a difference. I will go as far as how it has changed the (panorama) world.
I remember the early days of Flash when it was mainly meant to be a vector animation and viewing tool. And slowly, but surely, version after version, it started to morph itself into a much more versatile language for photos and videos. (Wikipedia rocks — found the history of Flash releases.) Once Flash Player version 8 came out in late 2005 with an ability to affine warp photo textures, that got a few smart folks working on Flash-based panorama viewers. I found one of the first viewers here. (If you can find more, PLS comment!) Just so that I am clear, by panorama viewer, I mean correct perspective warping, not those cheesy viewers where straight lines are all sinusoidal and sh!t.
So, what did this mean? With Flash Player penetration of ~95%, that meant most people could view the panoramas and hence brought the content/media to the realm of “mainstream!”
Believe it or not, this has changed our world. Thank you MacroMedia for that small innovation that made a difference.