The DirectModel rendering toolkit will let software developers build applications for Unix workstations as well as Windows NT, thanks to HP's agreement with Microsoft (MSFT) to incorporate DirectModel into the DirectX set of multimedia APIs (application programming interfaces).
The move to support NT has at least one analyst questioning the company's commitment to the Unix platform. "They're philosophically alienating themselves from the Unix workstation camp by dealing with Microsoft," said Karen Seymour, an analyst at International Data Corporation. "Everything they're doing these days indicates that they're not so committed to Unix."
Seymour also cited HP's ongoing collaboration with Intel on a PC processor, code-named Merced, and a recent reorganization of HP's workstation staff as two other examples of the company's wavering commitment to Unix.
DirectModel, which won't be incorporated into workstation graphics applications until at least the end of the year, could have an effect on the workstation market. With NT workstations just now reaching the performance level of low-end Unix boxes, Unix workstation makers are worried about losing sales to much cheaper NT machines. DirectModel-enabled apps will run on both platforms. With a foot in both the workstation and PC markets, HP will benefit from hardware sales on either side of the fence.
"They feel this is a win-win situation for them," added Seymour.
HP wants DirectModel applications to run on Windows NT, Microsoft's industrial-strength operating system, so that high-end graphics applications can share 3D data across the Windows environment even with applications that aren't necessarily geared for 3D.
"Enterprise-scale CAD [computer-aided design] application suppliers want to use a toolkit that is consistent with the rest of the NT environment," said Ted Wilson, research and development manager for HP's workstation systems division. "They also want their high-cost CAD apps to integrate favorably with other commodity applications out there [on a PC]."
Once DirectModel is integrated into DirectX, Microsoft will make DirectX available for HP's Unix operating system, called HP-UX.
For example, if a user wants a surface view of a car, DirectModel will hold back the data that describes the engine and wiring. Normally, the graphics board receives data for the entire model image and decides what parts are relevant, a process that slows down the system. DirectModel relieves the hardware of most display decisions and can speed up performance a hundredfold, according to Wilson.
When the DirectModel toolkit is finalized at the end of 1997, third-party software vendors who have beta versions now should be ready to ship DirectModel-enabled design products. Companies announcing their support include Autodesk, SensAble Technologies, and Matra Datavision.
DirectModel will also ship in the version of DirectX that ships in 1998. It will not be ready for this summer's release of DirectX 5.0.
DirectModel will also be available for other Unix platforms through Template Graphics Software. The toolkit will be incorporated into standard platform development kits for each operating system, including Windows NT, and will not increase the price of such kits, HP's Wilson said.