With the significant upgrade, Microsoft is now pulling its multimedia services into line with Apple Computer's popular QuickTime technology.
"It's Microsoft's catch-up move," said Stephan Somogyi, principal of the San Francisco-based consultancy Gyroscope. "They started focusing on games, then decided to bring the APIs (application programming interfaces) over to a more general audience, which is the opposite tack from Apple."
DirectX, the name for Microsoft's set of prebuilt software code for use in Windows-based multimedia applications, has been used exclusively for game development since its inception in late 1995. Microsoft now wants to promote DirectX beyond gaming by adding a second layer of APIs that will give developers the ability to integrate various multimedia objects--2D and 3D graphics, sound and video--into a single file.
For example, a developer will be able to choose a media object, attach behavior to it, and superimpose a video stream, according to Kevin Dallas, Microsoft group product manager for DirectX. "We're focusing it completely on the convergence of multimedia and the Internet," he said.
Microsoft's existing low-level "foundation" APIs that interact with system hardware are also due for an update. New features will include MMX support, AGP support, DirectSound 3D hardware acceleration, support for multiple monitors, and support for hardware video codecs, including MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 chips.
Down in Cupertino, Apple recently decided to curtail new development for Game Sprockets, its own low-level set of APIs for game developers. The decision to put Game Sprockets into what the project's technical lead called "maintenance mode" could hurt the company's chances not only of wooing game developers but also of selling Apple boxes, according to Somogyi: "It's yet another area where Apple had the opportunity to sell boxes into the home entertainment market. Strategically, it was a really dumb idea [to cut Game Sprockets development]."
The four targets of Microsoft's DirectX strategy are games and entertainment, authoring tools, Internet publishing, and real-time communications, Dallas added.
The new APIs will be available in June as part of DirectX 5.0. Applications built with DirectX run only on the Windows family of operating systems. Dallas said the company plans to address Unix and Macintosh compatibility later this quarter.
Meanwhile, Apple will unveil QuickTime 3.0 on April 8 for both Macintosh and Windows.