MS quietly dumps Windows OpenGL support

Joint programme with SGI to define future of graphics ends in tears

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Fahrenheit, the joint Microsoft-SGI project "to define the future of graphics" has crashed in ruins, with Microsoft to all intents and purposes pulling its support for OpenGL and throwing its weight behind Direct3D. The Register has obtained correspondence from the Win2k beta tests which makes this abundantly clear, and last week SGI itself drew a final line under its involvement with Fahrenheit. In a terse note posted on the company site, SGI said: "We have decided to reduce our involvement in all aspects of the Fahrenheit project, in line with our decision to no longer make the IRIX version of Fahrenheit available." Fahrenheit had originally been intended to create a suite of APIs for DirectX on Windows and IRIX and to incorporate OpenGL. As the two companies said at the time (December 1997): "Fahrenheit low-level API will become the primary graphics API for both consumer and professional applications on Windows. The Fahrenheit low-level API will evolve from Direct3D, DirectDraw and OpenGL, while providing full backward compatibility with applications and hardware device drivers written for Microsoft Direct3D and functional compatibility with Silicon Graphics' OpenGL technologies." This is quite clearly no longer true. OpenGL support was pulled from the Win2k beta some months back, prompting a series of problem reports from testers who found OpenGL apps were running slow and/or not working properly. The responses from Microsoft staff do not entirely make the actual position clear. One suggests that drivers for a particularly graphics card were pulled because of source code issues, while another says that "we are not supporting OGL until Direct3D is 100 per cent." Which of course suggests that Microsoft support for OpenGL would crack on ahead once Win2k went gold. A later response clarifies matters further: "No driver that ships with Win2k will contain OGL support... vendors will have to supply their own post ship." All of this however fails to make clear the extent of Microsoft's abandonment of OpenGL and the Fahrenheit project with SGI. But in an email sent two weeks ago, Microsoft's Philip Taylor (senior in MS Direct3D) states the position succinctly: "Do not let your personal preference for the Quake family of games dominate your understanding of this market. OGL is not strategic for us... as the last three years of history in the multimedia space have shown... SoftImage has about 20,000 seats total. And I just about had them convinced to do a port to D3D before we sold them. Outside of the Quake family of games there are, maybe, two hands-full of apps that use OGL. Somewhere between 5-10 per cent. D3D has overwhelming support in terms of titles, yet we have a serious lack of drivers. D3D drivers are strategic for us." And Fahrenheit seems to have been a crock, as Taylor tacitly admits: "Two years ago we had a working OGL wrapper on top of D3D. we missed a window of opportunity to provide this to the IHV community so they would concentrate on D3D drivers. Six months ago we missed an opportunity to make something out of the mess that is called Fahrenheit and turn Fahrenheit low-level into a driver layer to host both the D3D and the OGL runtime on... If we could come up with a plan to remove this bottleneck and get to one graphics driver that would be a huge win." Anyone interested in pursuing the dream of OpenGL as a standard on Windows would do well to compare that last paragraph with SGI's sign-off on Fahrenheit: "Any questions concerning the current status of, or future plans for Fahrenheit should be directed to Microsoft." Fahrenheit clearly does not have much of a home at Microsoft. As Taylor puts it, the company is concentrating on "one graphics driver" (the previous policy had envisaged Direct3D for games, with the addition of OpenGL for high-end systems), and rather than pushing OpenGL as a standard, Microsoft will just let the graphics vendors produce drivers independently. This is a spectacular turnaround from the initial Fahrenheit announcement, and quite a reversal from SGI's position of a year ago, when it trumpeted Fahrenheit's importance alongside the announcement of its NT-based Visual Workstations. But the Microsoft alliance has clearly not been to the company's advantage, and in announcing its ending of support for IRIX Fahrenheit and a 'reduction' (you can't get much more reduced than saying don't hassle us, call Microsoft instead) in its overall involvement in the project, SGI indicated that the rift between the two companies may have been Linux-related. Said SGI: "The future key OS platforms for SGI will be IRIX and Linux and to a lesser extent, [our italics] Windows... While it makes sense to have Fahrenheit on all of SGI's strategic operating systems, it makes little sense to have Fahrenheit on only IRIX and Windows. After much deliberation, it was jointly decided that Fahrenheit could best continue as a Windows OS-only product; thus Microsoft will continue the Fahrenheit development process." The other obvious alternative would of course have been for Microsoft to co-operate in a Fahrenheit implementation for Linux, so the end result is hardly surprising. ®

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