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Sun, SGI Come Together on Graphics

SGI and Sun Microsystems have joined forces to build a bridge between their popular graphics technologies.

Together, they will create Java bindings to the OpenGL application programming interface (API).

Open GL is a cross-platform 2D and 3D graphics technology from Mountain View, Calif.-based SGI that was adopted as an industry standard in 2001. It's used for all sorts of graphics, including computer games like X-Men: the Ravages of Apocalypse and Doom3; graphics tools such as Alias Maya; and CATIA computer-aided product design tools.

Java, developed by Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun, is a run-anywhere technology that enables a wide variety of functions on the Web, while Sun's Java 2 Micro Edition (J2ME) serves as the operating environment for cell phones that let users download games, music and applications.

Sun and SGI will work together to develop the bindings and will then submit them to the Java Community Process (JCP) and the OpenGL Architecture Review Board (ARB). They made the announcement Monday at the SIGGRAPH 2003 computer graphics symposium in San Diego.

"Any place you see connected devices and graphics, we expect this will be a powerful combo," Rob Glidden, market development manager for broadband and digital imaging at Sun, told internetnews.com. "With the ability [of OpenGL and Java] to connect high-performance graphics into the Web environment within a cross platform application environment, you'll see all sorts of media or graphics or commercial display, whole host of things.

"Now, you can write graphics that span from cell phones to super computers," said Shawn Underwood, director of marketing, Visual Computing Systems, SGI. For example, an OpenGL graphics API for Java would let a game developer write a game that could run on both a cell phone and a desktop computer.

Sun also announced it has joined the Khronos Group, a consortium of digital media and graphics industry players that's working on a range of media and graphics standards for non-mobile devices including game terminals, set-top boxes and avionics. On Monday at SIGGRAPH, it announced OpenGL ES, a lightweight specification designed for cell phones, PDAs and embedded systems like automobile navigation devices. Sun will work with the 42 other Khronos members to enable OpenGL ES to support graphics for J2ME graphical APIs.

"The Java community in particular has been in real need of a good strong low-level API," said Neil Trevitt, senior vice president of market development at 3Dlabs, which supplies graphics accelerators to Computer Aided Design (CAD), Digital Content Creation (DCC), and visual simulation professionals.. He said that Sun's Java 3D graphics library is too high-level for smaller devices.

"The strength of OpenGL is that it's a low-level library; it describes how you draw shapes like polygons on the screen," Trevitt said. "That makes it very useful and close to the hardware."

Trevitt, who chairs the Khronos Group and its OpenGL ES working group, said standardized Java bindings to OpenGL will make it easy for the Khronos Group to develop a little brother version for little devices. "We can directly leverage this work to create bindings for [embedded devices] almost for free." Trevitt said that 3D Java games on cell phones will come first, to be followed by telematics applications that let drivers preview the terrain they're driving over.

Sun's Glidden told internetnews.com that while it would take months to create the Java bindings to OpenGL, " I expect businesses will start making their business decisions almost immediately, based on knowing this."

Today's release of the OpenGL ES spec, according to Trevitt, lets hardware manufacturers and software developers move forward confidently. "In the hardware community, we now know what the software guys are going to use, so we can put our engineering efforts into creating highly optimized OpenGL ES hardware engines. For the software community, when they write piece of software, they can get their return by selling software on a whole range of platforms, not just one proprietary platform."