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The OpenGL Pipeline Newsletter - Volume 001

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A Message from the ARB Secretary

Welcome to the first issue of OpenGL Pipeline, the official newsletter of the OpenGL Architecture Review Board. Welcome—and goodbye—because this will probably be the last issue!

Now that I have your attention: this doesn’t mean that the newsletter is going away. But the ARB itself is going away! Why? Where? How? What does this mean for OpenGL standardization? Read on.

When Kurt Akeley and Mark Segal created OpenGL in the early 1990s, the 3D industry was very different. Graphics hardware was restricted to workstations and servers costing tens of thousands of dollars and up. There was no 3D games industry (Id’s DOOM wouldn’t even come out for a few more years). And hardware was very, very restricted in what it could do.

The ARB was set up to govern OpenGL, drawing on a group of high-end workstation and simulator manufacturers: DEC, Evans and Sutherland, HP, IBM, SGI, and others. But in the late 1990s, graphics hardware started to get cheaper, pervasive, and eventually much more capable, thanks to a new generation of companies like 3dfx, 3Dlabs, ATI, and NVIDIA. The ARB membership has reflected this change. Most of the innovations in OpenGL today come from those “consumer graphics” companies.

Now 3D acceleration is moving to cell phones, and OpenGL is there, too, as OpenGL ES, a subset of OpenGL created in the Khronos Group. Khronos is an entity similar to the ARB, but more widely focused, developing authoring (Collada), digital media/imaging (OpenMAX and OpenML), 3D (OpenGL ES), 2D (OpenVG), and sound (OpenSL ES) APIs.

We’ve decided that the future health of OpenGL—in all its forms—will be best served by moving OpenGL into Khronos, too. There are many advantages, such as:

- The OpenGL and OpenGL ES groups can communicate under the same set of intellectual property rules. IP rules are to standards like dental checkups are to you: unpleasant, but essential to avoid pain in the future.

- OpenGL and OpenGL ES might converge back into a single API. Mobile devices have grown more powerful and added back many features missing from OpenGL ES 1.0. And with programmable graphics pipelines common, we may be ready to phase out redundant and legacy features from OpenGL.

- The OpenGL group can work closely with other APIs in Khronos. For example, we might eventually replace the GLX/WGL/AGL APIs with EGL, a cross-platform equivalent developed in Khronos.

- The OpenGL group and the rest of Khronos can pool efforts on SDKs and documentation. For example, the OpenGL extension registry will grow into a registry for all the Khronos APIs.

- Finally, OpenGL and Khronos can more efficiently share administrative, logistical, and website support from the Gold Standard Group.

From a developer’s viewpoint, there’ll be little change. The opengl.org website and boards will continue, though we may merge the underlying webhost with khronos.org. The standards process will operate much as it does today, although we will coordinate our releases and announcements with other Khronos APIs.

Not much will change in our day-to-day operation, either. Khronos and ARB processes are very similar. Other Khronos member companies will be able to join in our working groups.

Merging is a complicated process and will take months to complete, but is well underway. So, the next quarterly issue of “OpenGL Pipeline” will probably be published by the Khronos Group, not the ARB, and will probably be expanded to cover OpenGL ES and perhaps other Khronos APIs. We’ll talk more about the status of the merger at the SIGGRAPH OpenGL BOF Session.

It’s been my privilege and my pleasure to serve as the OpenGL ARB Secretary since joining SGI in 1997. Now I’m looking forward to a new stage in the evolution of OpenGL. Come along for the ride!

Jon Leech
ARB Secretary


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