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Google ratchets interweb 3D on Windows

Open browser bling for the Microsoft set

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Google has announced a new open source project designed to facilitate the use of WebGL, the browser-based 3D graphics standard floated by Mozilla and the Khronos Group.

Known as the Almost Native Graphics Layer Engine - ANGLE, for short - the project will allow the still-gestating WebGL to work in tandem with Microsoft's DirectX APIs, bringing WebGL to Windows machines otherwise unequipped for it.

WebGL - a means to providing hardware-accelerated 3D inside the browser - is designed to make graphics calls via the OpenGL desktop graphics interface. But as Google product manager Henry Bridge points out in a blog post, Windows machines aren't all that likely to include OpenGL graphics cards. "On Windows," he says, "most graphics-intensive apps use Microsoft Direct3D APIs instead of OpenGL, so OpenGL drivers are not always available.

"Unfortunately, this situation means that even if they have powerful graphics hardware, many Windows machines can't render WebGL content because they don't have the necessary OpenGL drivers installed."

ANGLE will allow Windows users to run WebGL without installing OpenGL drivers. It's meant to layer WebGL's portion of the OpenGL ES 2.0 API over DirectX 9.0c API calls. ANGLE has been released under the BSD license "as an early work in progress," and you can visit the code here.

According to Bridge, the project will implement almost the entire Open ES 2.0 API - not just the WebGL subset - so it may also be a handy tool for developers looking to build mobile and embedded applications. "ANGLE should make it simpler to prototype these applications on Windows," he says, "and also gives developers new options for deploying production versions of their code to the desktop."

WebGL is the brainchild of Mozilla and open standards consortium the Khronos Group, the organization that standardized OpenGL. A WebGL draft was released late last year.

As it champions WebGL, Google is also developing its own hardware-accelerated web 3D setup known as O3D. Whereas WebGL exposes OpenGL calls to JavaScript, O3D operates as a plug-in. Google despises browser plug-ins except when it doesn't. ®

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