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MS, SGI in graphics chip tie-up

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

The companies will combine their graphics programming technologies--SGI's OpenGL and Microsoft's DirectX--to create a new graphics architecture for Windows. The focus is expected to be on Microsoft's high-end Windows NT operating system. DirectX includes Microsoft's Direct3D technology.

The two companies just last week 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, NT 4.0, and Windows 98 and NT 5.0.

The new architecture will "take the best of both" of OpenGL and Direct X, sources said.

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. To do so, it will bring out workstations with very high-end graphics subsystems based on the new architecture, according to industry sources familiar with the announcement.

In announcing their joint work on OpenGL device driver kits for Windows, Microsoft and SGI were careful to point out that OpenGL would remain the platform for high-end "professional" development such as computer-aided design, while Direct3D would be the architecture for game development.

One industry analyst acknowledged that Windows needs OpenGL, but he was unsure how taking the best of both API (application programming interface) sets would play out.

"For NT to be taken seriously as an engineering workstation it needs high-end 3D, and that's what they get with OpenGL," said Stephan Somogyi, principal of technology consultancy Gyroscope. "I'd be skittish about any sort of amalgamation, because leaving out any part of OpenGL would be stupid if they're going after the engineering workstation market."

Microsoft has recently made investments along with strategic and technology partnerships, but it's uncertain if any investment will come into play tomorrow.

"Funding is not strictly necessary to SGI at this juncture," said analyst Doug Van Dorsten of Hambrecht & Quist. "A much larger problem is their lack of either a CEO or a CFO."