The OpenGL API: What Is It, and Why Should You Care?

What Is It, and Why Should You Care?

When you hear design engineers and digital artists and animators talking about graphics workstations, you hear them refer to OpenGL-compliant systems and software. The OpenGL API is the industry standard for 3-D work in the UNIX and NT worlds, and most of the software written for 3-D applications is written for the OpenGL API.

Silicon Graphics Incorporated (SGI), a 3-D rendering powerhouse, created the OpenGL API and offered it to the IS community as an open technology. An industrywide Architecture Review Board (ARB) now governs OpenGL technology, and the board members include SGI, Microsoft, HP, IBM, Intel, Digital Equipment, Evans & Sutherland, Intergraph, and Sun Microsystems. Even though this Who's Who of IS companies governs OpenGL, other graphical APIs exist: for example, Direct Draw.

A Microsoft initiative, the DirectDraw API is generally restricted to game programming, and as such, is not an interface that high-end 3-D workstation designers are likely to optimize on their systems. Of the top ten 3-D rendering applications available for the NT platform, only SoftImage 3D supports the DirectDraw API. (This support is not a surprise, given that Microsoft owns both SoftImage 3D and DirectDraw.) All other notable 3-D applications, including Autodesk's Mechanical Desktop, CoCreate's SolidDesigner, Kinetix's 3D Studio MAX, and Parametric Technology's Pro/ENGINEER, target OpenGL compliance exclusively.

Software vendors are not likely to support Direct Draw in the future, because Microsoft, SGI, and other industry heavyweights are developing a new API for the next generation of 3-D rendering applications. Still in the developmental stages, the yet-to-be-introduced API, code-named Fahrenheit, promises to keep OpenGL the API for 3-D rendering applications for some time to come. Now you know why the Windows NT Magazine Lab tests only OpenGL graphics performance.

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