SGI, MS read Fahrenheit by 2000

Microsoft and Silicon Graphics unveil a new graphics chip architecture that SGI will use to propel itself into the burgeoning Windows-Intel workstation market.

Microsoft (MSFT) and Silicon Graphics (SGI) are collaborating on a new graphics architecture for Windows to bring 3D graphics down to the desktop and eventually other digital devices.

The companies will combine their graphics programming technologies--SGI's OpenGL and Scene Graph and Microsoft's DirectX--to create a new graphics architecture for Windows called Fahrenheit, as reported by CNET's NEWS.COM.

The focus is expected to be on Microsoft's Windows NT operating system, which is eating into the market share of low-end Unix workstations, such as those made by SGI. Thus SGI will use Fahrenheit to propel itself into the Windows-Intel workstation market by the end of next year.

The Fahrenheit architecture will consist of three levels: a low-level programming interface that will combine DirectX and OpenGL; a middle interface based on SGI's Scene Graph technology; and a high-end set of extensions, the first of which will be a large-scale visualization model.

Scene Graph and its extensions won't be ready until next year, and the foundation of Fahrenheit, the low-level API, won't be ready until the year 2000, which makes adoption of the technology far short of a sure thing, according to one industry analyst.

"This is so far off as to be irrelevant for the time being," said Stephan Somogyi, principal of technology consultancy Gyroscope. "By that time, Merced should be shipping in machines, and the world will be a very different place."

Merced is Intel's next-generation 64-bit processor, due in 1999, first in servers and high-end workstations. When the low-level API is released in 2000, Scene Graph and its extensions will be reworked to run on the forthcoming chip. Until then, Scene Graph will run on top of DirectX and OpenGL.

Intel did not participate in today's announcement, although officials from both SGI and Microsoft said that they will work with the chipmaking giant to optimize the Fahrenheit low-level API for the Intel architecture. (Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.)

Last week, SGI and Microsoft said that they are working together to make SGI's OpenGL 3D graphics technology available to Windows developers by offering a "driver" kit--essentially enabling software--for graphics chips and board makers. The kits will be available for Windows 95 and NT 4.0, and forthcoming Windows 98 and NT 5.0.

As previously reported, SGI has said it will enter the Windows-Intel workstation market in mid-1998. But the company wants to make sure it can distinguish itself from other NT workstations, such as models from Hewlett-Packard or Compaq. The first of SGI's NT-based "visual PCs" will be ready by the end of 1998, company officials said today.

In announcing their joint work, Microsoft and SGI were careful to point out that until Fahrenheit is ready, OpenGL would remain the platform for high-end "professional" development such as computer-aided design, while Direct3D would be the architecture for game development and other consumer-level applications.

Microsoft has not made any financial investments in Silicon Graphics, officials said.

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