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Change of heart? IE11 might speed Web graphics with WebGL

A leaked build of Microsoft's next browser shows signs that the company could be reversing its opposition to a standard for accelerated 2D and 3D graphics on the Web.

The WebGL-powered version of Google Maps shows transparent 3D buildings such as this view of Kowloon and offers other fancy effects.
The WebGL-powered version of Google Maps shows transparent 3D buildings such as this view of Kowloon and offers other fancy effects.
screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Microsoft's next version of Internet Explorer might just support WebGL, a standard for accelerated 3D graphics on the Web that the company previously has attacked as a security risk.

A leaked version of the next version of Windows, code-named Blue, came with a version of IE11, and developer's scrutiny of the browser shows evidence of WebGL.

"It seems like WebGL interfaces are defined but not functional at this time," said Web developer and author Francois Remy in a blog post this week. That means that the IE11 build has some infrastructure in place to support WebGL, but lacks actual support at this stage.

Microsoft won't confirm anything at this stage. "We don't comment on rumors or speculation," the company said in a statement.

WebGL got its start at Mozilla and won Google's endorsement as a way to bring 3D graphics to the Web and to speed them up with hardware acceleration. WebGL, also helpful with 2D graphics acceleration, is good for games and potentially other graphics-intense tasks. Google offers WebGL as an option for Google Maps, for example. WebGL offers a JavaScript interface to the low-level OpenGL ES 2.0 graphics library, but there are libraries that let programmers draw on WebGL services with higher-level programming.

Microsoft disparaged WebGL as a security risk, a concern that Mozilla derided. However, developers have been working on addressing security shortcomings.

And it's not inconceivable that Microsoft might have a change of heart: Paul Cotton, head of Microsoft's Web standards work, said last year that WebGL support consistently is a top IE feature request.

"It would be great to have interoperable 3D graphics on the Web. If we can solve the security problems, I think we'd seriously look at some way of producing 3D graphics for the Web," he said at the time. "If we were ever going to implement WebGL, we think finding a solution to those problems is not optional but actually mandatory."

Via Brandon Jones