DirectX is a type of API (application programming interface) called a hardware abstraction layer, which sits between Microsoft's Windows 95, Windows 98, and NT operating systems and various types of hardware.
The software giant has positioned DirectX as a standardized interface between Windows applications and multimedia hardware in an attempt to simplify Windows application development. Programmers, in theory, can write to a single DirectX API to access multimedia hardware and resources instead of to a mishmash of incompatible proprietary interfaces.
DirectX is an umbrella term for a group of APIs that includes Direct3D, which speeds up texture mapping and other 3D graphics processes; DirectSound for audio cards; DirectDraw for creating vector graphics; DirectVideo for displaying video files and other moving pictures; and DirectPlay and DirectInput, which simultaneously support sound, drawing, video, networked game play, and joystick standards.
Microsoft is touting a number of upgrade features for DirectX 6.0, such as single-pass multitexturing, bump mapping, texture compression, and stencil buffers. Redmond also said that the new version has improved the performance of Direct3D, DirectDraw, and DirectSound multimedia technology.
"After having done a couple of years of DirectX, we've actually been able to refine and mature the API this year," said Kevin Bachus, Microsoft lead project manager for DirectX.
Though DirectX 5.0 was included in Windows 98, it wasn't until today that developers could utilize the new DirectX 6.0 software tools to facilitate programming on the operating system. Bachus said that the release of the tool was because developers requested that the software be shipped at the end of July. Developers wanted the package at the end of the summer to prepare for new product releases by the Christmas season, he said.
"We actually took a very hard look at our features set and a very hard look at our schedule so we could do that to give our developers a lot of confidence," Bachus added.