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Microsoft buffs its Chrome

The Windows system software essentially creates an easy pathway for Web designers to create 3D images or features in HTML pages.

Microsoft (MSFT) is giving hardware developers a sneak peek at Chrome, a piece of Windows system software that will let high-powered PCs play 3D graphics and video either through a Web browser or in separate player software.

Chrome is the code name for the software, which Microsoft representatives described as a "Windows system service." It will take advantage of Direct3D, Microsoft's current 3D graphics API (application programming interface), and give CD-ROM, DVD, and Web developers a software layer that understands 3D commands and plays them back.

Chrome essentially creates an easy pathway for Web designers to create DirectX-powered 3D images or features in regular HTML pages. In other words, designers do not have to write directly to the DirectX APIs.

In the end, users also get faster downloads.

"It is going to propel the industry," said Bob Heddle, project manager for Chrome. "We're moving DirectX from programmers to artists."

However, content written to take advantage of Chrome will need at least a 350-MHz PC with an Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) graphics processing, Microsoft group product manager Tom Johnston said.

Microsoft wants to finalize it by early 1999. But it could ship earlier with the next upgrade of DirectX, Microsoft's set of APIs that give Windows developers a standard way to handle multimedia content.

"It might ship with DirectX, but it's not part of it," Johnston said. Microsoft has not decided how to package the software, if it will cost anything, or if it will affect Windows pricing.

To view content built with Chrome, current media players would need to be upgraded, Johnston said. The Internet Explorer Web browser will also be able to display Chrome-built material, but current bandwidth limitations make it unlikely that Web-based content will transmit well, he added.

Chrome will eventually be a part of both Windows 98 and Windows NT 5.0, most likely in early 1999.

Several components, grouped under the DirectX moniker, comprise the Windows graphics architecture that developers can use to integrate 2D, 3D, bitmap graphics, and video playback into Windows applications. Direct3D provides a standard API for accessing 3D acceleration hardware; DirectDraw is a software engine for displaying bitmap graphics; ActiveMovie gives developers a standard way of handling video.