See Copyright and Usage Notice

The Virtual Places communities

Figure 10.1.1 vpmac1.jpg
Virtual Places on the Macintosh

Virtual Places (VP) has an interesting history. Created by an Israeli company named Ubique (which continues to develop VP to this day), it was first hosted by GNN, an Internet service provider in Berkeley, California from late 1995. At about the same time, America Online (AOL) entered the picture. AOL already had a very successful business with chat rooms (30 to 40 percent of their customersí on-line time was spent chatting), and it needed a visual avatar chat space. AOL bought Virtual Places (and ultimately bought GNN), so Ubique built a completely integrated version of VP which runs inside AOL. Lastly (or at least when this chapter was written), Ubique brought out another new version of VP (version 2.1) that runs as a separate application with Microsoft Internet Explorer. This version is hosted at, and is a follow-up to the original 1.0 version that runs with Netscape Navigator. More versions of VP are emerging, and those will give you plenty of choices!
Version of VP CommunityHost Site User Population Comments
AOL Version 2.0Virtual Places for America Online Log on to AOL and go to keyword: VP Averages 700 to 1,500 members during prime hours Best viewed with AOL 3.0 for Windows 95
Excite Version 2.1 Excite's VPDownload from Averages 300 to 500-plus members during prime hours Beta, works with Internet Explorer 3.0
Internet Version 2.0 Small but growing community hosted by VPchat Download from Averages 100 to 250-plus members during prime hours Requires Internet Explorer 3.0 or later
Internet Version 1.0 The earlier VP chat client and community on the Internet Find it also at Averages 250-500 members during prime hours Best viewed with Netscape 3.0

Table 10.1 The Virtual Places Communities.

Which community should you select?

If you subscribe to America Online, and you do not have any other connection to the Internet, you should choose the AOL version (this works best with version 3.0 of AOL for Windows 95). If you have a direct connection to the Internet, and you are using a Macintosh, and have Netscape 2.0.2 or above, you should go with version 1.0. If you have a Macintosh with Internet Explorer 3.0, try the Excite VP. If you have a PC with Windows 3.1 or 3.11, and any version of Netscape Navigator, you should try version 1.0. If you have a PC with Windows 95 and Internet Explorer 3.0 or higher and a connection to the Internet, try version 2.0 or Exciteís VP version 2.1. Excite is an online service that supports Web searching and has recently branched out into chat and online communities.

The AOL versions of VP tend to have more moderation and parental controls in place. The open communities tend to be more of a free-for-all.

Just want pure chat?

Figure 10.2 vp9e.jpg
Virtual Places has pure chat in Java.

The good folks at Virtual Places have created their own version of Virtual Places in Java. This version does not support avatars, just pure chat and group tours of Web sites. It is much easier to get started in this kind of chat and then move on to avatar worlds if you really dig the experience. The previous figure shows a lively group of over 40s talking about Geritol (ugh!). If you want to experience VPís Java Chat, just point your Java-enabled Web browser (Netscape Navigator 3.0 or Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0) at and select Go right to live chat. In about 30 seconds you will be chatting.

Installing and Downloading Virtual Places

What do I need to use Virtual Places?

To use Virtual Places, you need either a PC with a 486 processor and Windows 3.11 or a Macintosh with a 68030 processor and Mac OS version 7.5.3 or higher. There are many flavors of Virtual Places (as you can see in the preceding section) which may require more powerful computers. If you are an America Online subscriber, you can get into Virtual Places directly through AOL. If you have a direct connection to the Internet (dial-up or local network) you can use the other versions of VP listed in Table 10.1.

Software and connection requirements

Along with the Virtual Places client software, you must run a Web browser, such as the browser in AOL, Netscape, or Internet Explorer. Various versions of VP work with various browsers, so check table 10.1. You can get your Virtual Places client software from the CD-ROM in this book or download it directly from the Internet, or through AOL.

If you use another on-line service such as CompuServe, Microsoft Network, or Prodigy you may be able to use an open (non-AOL) version of VP if your on-line service supports direct Internet access through the 32-bit Winsock. (Short for Windows Sockets, Winsock is a standard interface for Microsoft Windows applications and the Internet. Winsocks allow communication between Windows Web browsers, e-mail clients, IRC clients, or any other Windows Winsock applications and the TCP/IP). See, ìSetting up your on-line service to connect directly with the Internet,î in Appendix D. If you have further problems, contact your on-line service for help.

Getting started and a few disclaimers

Virtual Places is free to use (you have to accept the terms of your free license during installation). You are not charged for the time you spend exploring or interacting in VP, but you could be charged for the hours you are on-line from your Internet service provider (ISP) or from America Online (if you are using AOL VP). Check with your ISP or AOL on monthly free hours and rates. Of course, you should remember that you are also charged by your telephone company for using the phone line while you are using a modem.

More about the companion CD software

Virtual Places is constantly evolving, and may have changed since this chapter was written. I placed the very latest versions of Virtual Places on your book CD, and it may be somewhat different from what is described here. These differences will not be major, and this chapter will still be a great guide to Virtual Places and its worlds. If you see new features or changes, check for information under the Help menu in Virtual Places.

[Sidebar with help icon:

Keep up-to-date on your favorite worlds; visit your Avatars! book Web site often

As a special service for readers of Avatars! , I have a special home page on the World Wide Web devoted to keeping you up-to-date on your favorite worlds. Find news about software updates, social events held within these virtual worlds, and brand new worlds you might want to try at Bookmark it!

..end of sidebar]

If you have questions or problems

If you have questions or problems installing or running Virtual Places, consult the ìFrequently Asked Questions (FAQ),î at the end of the chapter. If this does not help you, check the Virtual Places home page at, especially the excellent tutorial at A reference guide, technical support, and release notes can be found at Another important page for VP users is, which contains avatars, gestures, help sections, and pointers to all available versions of VP.

Reporting a bug to the VP folks is simple. Simply fill out the bug report form for the Windows or Macintosh version you are using on the Web site at

I appreciate your feedback on Avatars! but I donít have the resources to provide technical support. I would be happy to hear about your experiences in Virtual Places. Contact me through the Avatars! book Web site at

UNIX, and OS/2 versions

At this writing, there are no versions of Virtual Places client program for UNIX or OS/2. Check the Virtual Places and Avatars! book Web pages for updates on new versions which might support these platforms. You also may be able to run the Virtual Places client using a Windows emulation system on non-Windows machines. Note that if you are considering hosting your own Virtual Places community, the Virtual Places community server runs on standard UNIX platforms, and connects with any version of VP on Windows or the Macintosh.

Installing Virtual Places from your Avatars! CD

If you have a CD-ROM drive on your PC, you can install Virtual Places directly from the book CD-ROM. If you donít have a CD-ROM drive, skip to the section, ìInstalling or upgrading Virtual Places from the Internet,î later in this chapter. In Chapter 20, I provide step-by-step instructions for installing software from the CD-ROM. Refer to this chapter, and then follow the same steps for Virtual Places. Once the installation program on your CD-ROM has started, you can return to this chapter to the section, ìRunning the Installation.î

Installing Virtual Places through America Online

If you use AOL and wish to use Virtual Places directly inside AOL, follow these steps to get chatting in the Web cosmos under AOL:

1. Start and log onto AOL

2. Go to keyword (select the Go To menu and keyword, or press Ctrl+K on a PC, or Command+K on a Mac)

3. Enter the letters VP and press Go

Figure 10.3 vp6a.jpg
The AOL Virtual Places dialogue.

4. You will be presented with an AOL Virtual Places dialogue like the one in the preceding figure. You can take a sneak preview of VP or avatars, or just go to Explore Virtual Places Now.

Figure 10.4 vp6c.jpg
Download VP through AOL.

5. AOL will present you with more dialogue boxes, explaining terms of service, and then you can begin downloading the Virtual Places software. This will take between 20 minutes and an hour, depending on the speed of your connection.

Figure 10.5 vp6f.jpg
The AOL Virtual Places startup dialogue.

6. Once the download is finished, AOL will prompt you to install VP. VP will run and download further components (mostly artwork), and then start, giving you a dialogue like the one in the previous figure. You will be asked to enter your personal information and set your avatar. This procedure is pretty much the same in all versions of VP, and it is covered in a section called, ìGetting your start in VP,î later in this chapter.

Installing or upgrading Virtual Places from the Internet

If you want the very latest open Internet version of Virtual Places, or were informed that you had to upgrade the version found on your Avatars! CD, then you must download files from the Internet. If you haven't done this before, don't panic; it is easier than you might think!

  1. Connect to the Internet (dial up with your modem or make sure your Internet connection is active).
  2. Start your Web browser, such as Netscape or Internet Explorer.
  3. In the top of the browser, you will see a long area called Location, where you can enter text.
  4. Click in this area, delete the text inside, type, and press Enter.
  5. After a few moments, the home page for Virtual Places should appear. If nothing comes up for a long time, check to see that you are online. You can also try VPchat.comís home page at If you are downloading the version of VP for Excite, get it from
  6. If the Virtual Places or other home pages are not available for some reason, try entering the location for the Avatars! book home page, which is at This page may contain more up-to-date links for Virtual Places.
  7. Once you are at the Virtual Places home page, follow the instructions for downloading or upgrading the Virtual Places software for your particular platform (Windows 3.11, Windows 95, or Macintosh) and your particular Web browser (Netscape 2.0, 3.0, or 4.0, or Internet Explorer 3.0 or 4.0). At one point, you will click on a link and be prompted for a place to save a file. In response to the dialogue box, click Save to Disk (Netscape) or Save As (Internet Explorer), and save the file to a subdirectory folder or a place on your desktop. You must choose a folder where you will remember to find the new file, and note the name of the file. You can use the folder that your Web browser gives you or move back up and select another. I put all downloaded files in a folder I call C:\download. Wait patiently while the download progresses (about 2MB to 3MB). You can do work in other applications but be careful not to interfere with the connection. Try not to do more on-line work (such as Web surfing) while the download is progressing, and if you are using your regular telephone line, donít try to make a telephone call.
  8. Macintosh specific instruction: After you download the file (which should have the suffix .hqx), Netscape should unpack it to a file called VP Installer. If Netscape has a problem expanding the .hqx file, you can get a free copy of StuffIt Expander from various Web sites, including Aladdin Systems at This expander can be used to produce the file called VP Installer, which is self-extractingñ just double-click on it to produce VP Installer.
  9. After the download is finished (30 to 50 minutes for a 28.8 kbps connection, and about twice that long for a 14.4 kbps connection), open the folder into which the file was downloaded, and double-click on the file to start the installation. Go to the following section, ìRunning the installation.î

Running the installation

Whether you are running the installation from the CD-ROM, or from the file you downloaded from the Internet, use this section to guide you through the installation. Note that if you downloaded Virtual Places from the Internet, the installation process may have changed. If this has happened, refer to instructions on Virtual Places Web site. Here are installation instructions for both the PC and Macintosh platforms.

For the PC

  1. Double-click on the file to start the installation.
  2. InstallShield should start and bring up an interface to install VP.
  3. Read and accept the terms of the license agreement (if you do not, the installation will stop).
  4. Accept the folder into which VP will be installed and the other settings.
  5. InstallShield will then install the files onto your hard disk.
  6. You will be prompted to start VP at the end of the installation. If you have the Web browser for this version of VP, and you are connected to the Internet, you can choose to start VP now.

For the Macintosh

  1. Double-click on the VP Installer file which was downloaded and expanded.
  2. Read and accept the terms of the license agreement (if you do not, the installation will stop).
  3. The Virtual Places folder, VPlaces x.x (where x.x is the version number), will be installed by the MindVision VISE installer, which handles installation on your hard disk. You can change the folder's location if you wish.

Memory requirements for the PC

PCs generally require 8MB of RAM for VP and your Web browser, although 16MB is recommended (especially if you are running Windows 95).

Memory requirements for the Macintosh

Virtual Places requires 3MB of RAM (4MB is recommended), and works with a Web browser. The following chart shows the memory requirements for different configurations:

Memory requirements for Macintosh versions of Virtual Places
Virtual Places with Web browser MinimumRecommended
Netscape 2.0.212MB 16MB
Netscape 3.016MB 20MB

Table 10.2

You may need to use Virtual Memory for VP to work on your Macintosh. Check your Macintosh documentation to find out if Virtual Memory is active on your computer.

If you use Netscape 3.0, it is recommended that at least 12M of the recommended RAM are physical memory. In the current beta version of the Macintosh software, there is no support for the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser. A future release of the software will support Internet Explorer.

Files created by the installation

If you are running Windows 95, a shortcut to Virtual Places will be placed on your desktop and a folder called \program files\vplaces. In Windows 3.1, you will find VP in a program group called Virtual Places and a directory called \vplaces. On the Macintosh you can find VP in a folder called Vplaces.

Clean up after installation

If you downloaded the Virtual Places installation file from the Internet, you can delete it after the installation is complete. Do not delete the Virtual Places program you just installed by mistake.

© Copyright Bruce Damer, 1997, All rights reserved.