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Aqua eye-candy comes to the PC

Direct3D on the desktop

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Stardock has released a small utility that brings several of the dazzling effects seen in Apple's Aqua UI to the PC. WindowFX 2.0, released today, performs Direct3D operations including transparency and transitions on each window - which we think is a first on Windows - although Stardock is shying away from a confrontation with Apple's legal department by not including the hallmark Genie effect, for example.

But the proof's in the pudding, and this one is pretty tasty. If you're a PC user, you'll probably be giggling like a chimp on helium: it's one of the year's most impressive demos, and even on old hardware (our PIII 700 server with a 16MB Matrox G400) WindowFX performs snappily. Which is more than can be said for Aqua on all but the latest Apple hardware.

Even though it's conceptually similar to Quartz Extreme, introduced in OS X 10.2, WindowFX isn't as ambitious as Quartz compositing, explains Stardock CEO Brad Wardell. "Because it's layering, not compositing. Windows XP doesn't do compositing."

"Apple have been the ones to make it famous, to do this kind of stuff on the desktop, while PC users have been obsessed with getting one more frame per second out of Quake."

WindowFX uses new layering APIs in Windows, says Wardell, but most of the work is performed by the graphics card driver.

"Once you have the window buffer you can do all sorts of tricky Direct3D operations on it. If the video card makers implement the APIs correctly we can talk D3D without being in D3D mode. But we have to rely on video card drivers to create the interface to implement that properly."

Out of the box WindowFX comes with around 20 transition effects, but not the standard Apple OS X transitions, Genie and Scale. However it's end-user scriptable, so you can roll your own transitions and shadows. WindowFX has some unique tricks too: it can give each window its own light source, for example, if you use Stardock's companion WindowBlinds skins. It's a $19.95 purchase, or included as part of an Object Desktop subscription.

It's one of the small ironies in the PC business, that Apple now removes APIs to deter third party developers, while the Evil Beast of Redmond adds them.

"Apple added code to forcibly exclude all non-Apple menu extras," in Jagwyre, noted John Siracusa in his excellent 10.2 review on Ars Technica. "Other parts of the API did not change. But when a menu extra is loaded, it is compared to a hard-coded list of "known" menu extras from Apple. If the menu extra is not on that list, it is not allowed to load."

Do you think Tim O'Reilly will be bold enough to raise this kind of sabotage at his OS X Conference this week? ®

Related Links

WindowFX 2.0
Open GL BOF at SIGGRAPH 2002

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Apple rattles lawyers at DesktopX over Aqua
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