Originally Published: Tuesday, 23 November 1999 Author: Luke Groeninger
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Linux Goes 3D

Linux has made many leaps and bounds in the past year. One of the flaws that made Linux a poor alternative to traditional UNIX workstations is the lack of mature (fast, stable, and compatible) OpenGL libraries. The Mesa group has done a wonderful job with their OpenGL clone, but it doesn't stack up against SGI workstations; after all, it is only software rendering, and what hardware rendering existed was buggy, a pain to get working, and generally a mess. All this is about to change....

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Linux has made many leaps and bounds in the past year. One of the flaws that made Linux a poor alternative to traditional UNIX workstations is the lack of mature (fast, stable, and compatible) OpenGL libraries. The Mesa group has done a wonderful job with their OpenGL clone, but it doesn't stack up against SGI workstations; after all, it is only software rendering, and what hardware rendering existed was buggy, a pain to get working, and generally a mess. All this is about to change.

To be fair, it was not any one person's fault for the problems of the OpenGL implementations. Most of the problems with speed were encountered because X does not let applications write directly to the screen, and what protocols did exist for 3d rendering were so complex that it took ages to write and debug a driver. The complexity of X and the protocols used for rendering caused bugs to be both numerous and hard to find.

But in the past year, the foundation has been laid for full hardware OpenGL support in Linux. Precision Insight Inc. introduced a new infrastructure for 3D rendering called DRI, which allows faster rendering with less overhead, NVIDIA announced full Linux support for its current and upcoming graphics cards, and 3Dfx has released the source code for a Voodoo3 DRI implementation. These being drastic improvements and all, many of you are probably asking why this is important.

For the professional graphics artist, it would be nice to have a free software environment that has 3D acceleration. For the home user, 3D support is used most commonly in games, so if you don't play them, you probably won't need it. But it is always nice to relieve some stress by playing Quake 3 when the day is over, and not having to reboot to do so is a major plus. For software developers, it means that you can write 3D applications in Linux and not have to worry about only a few people can run the end product. All in all, this is a Good Thing (TM).

Can Linux survive without 3D support? Probably, after all it did survive for how long without it. But 3D support is welcome, as it opens the platform up to new software that could not run on it, from games to CAD applications.

Luke Groeninger currently attends school, where he runs the two Linux servers in his free time, and works for Linux.com when he is not busy attending to doing school work. Feel free to write him at dghost@linux.com with suggestions or comments. All flame will be laughed at and publicly harassed.





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