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December 17, 1997updated 03 Sep 2016 7:40pm


By CBR Staff Writer

Silicon Graphics Inc signaled a fundamental shift in its business model yesterday, throwing the future of its graphics technology into a pot with Microsoft Corp and at the same time making public its plans to market graphics systems running Windows NT. SGI and Redmond have joined forces to define and develop new graphics technologies as part of a project code-named Fahrenheit. The two are trumpeting the partnership as a vessel for porting high performance graphics everywhere, from workstations down to consumer electronics devices running Windows CE, televisions and game consoles. The announcement, made by outgoing CEO Ed McCracken, crashed the cozy relationship Hewlett-Packard Co has established with Microsoft on the development of advanced graphics and in what sounded like a gesture of apology, Microsoft said it hoped HP would support their initiative. The new graphics architecture Microsoft and SGI are to create will enable the troubled Mountain View, California hardware vendor to embrace Windows NT with differentiated products leveraging its leading graphics and imaging technology. Microsoft gets a whole new graphics architecture for Windows informed by SGI’s OpenGL which will supersede its existing Direct3D and DirectDraw technologies in the long run. Although ISVs will be able to use the Fahrenheit APIs to develop applications on Windows or for SGI’s IRIX Unix, Fahrenheit is clearly aimed at Windows users as a new set of firmware APIs are being created solely for Windows. Microsoft installing SGI as its preeminent partner is clearly a slap in the face to its NT buddy HP which has been especially proud of its work on 3D DirectModel technology with Microsoft – now relegated to a Fahrenheit plug-in alongside SGI’s high-end OpenGL Optimizer technology. Microsoft and SGI envisage three Fahrenheit APIs being created. First, a low-level set of interfaces to communicate with graphics hardware and peripherals and compatible with Direct3D, DirectDraw and OpenGL and backwards compatible with existing Microsoft 3-D Graphics applications and hardware device drivers – but only functionally compatible with OpenGL. And we don’t quite know what functional means in this case. This API should be surfacing in Windows in the first half of calendar 2000. Second, Fahrenheit Scene Graph API for application development on Windows and IRIX – based upon SGIs Scene API – will be demonstrated next year and will ship in 1999. The last project of the partnership, Fahrenheit Large Model Visualization Extensions based upon OpenGL Optimizer and the DirectModel API from Microsoft and HP that will operate in conjunction with the Scene Graph API, will also be demonstrated in 1998 and available in 1999. The two say other large visualization technologies and APIs will be able to plug into the Fahrenheit technology. Its not clear how much code will have to be rewritten for existing Microsoft applications to take advantage of Fahrenheit. Microsoft says the work will be akin to the steps ISVs had to take when moving from using DirectX revisions 1 through 5. Fahrenheit supports two device driver models; DirectX and extensible framework for workstations and other high-end peripherals. MS advocates developing to DirectX on PCs and to OpenGL for workstations until Fahrenheit is delivered, which it says will obscure the differences between the two.

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