WINDOWS Magazine, May 1997
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Stop Playing Games and Get Down to Business
'X' marks the spot as Microsoft takes aim at 3-D.
-- by Lou Grinzo
Great Windows graphics have always come at a price-reduced performance. Step by step, Microsoft has been remedying the situation with solutions like WinG, then DirectX. The initial version of DirectX included component object model-based libraries for DirectDraw (for 2-D graphics), DirectSound (for the sound board), DirectInput (for your joystick and, in later versions, the keyboard and mouse) and DirectPlay (for management of game sessions between multiple programs). But despite its wide reach, DirectX lacked 3-D support-until now.
Within the latest version, DirectX 2, is a component called Direct3D, which enables Windows programs to maximize any hardware's 3-D performance. To accomplish this, Direct3D simplifies the process of adding 3-D effects to programs. While programmers still have to understand how 3-D graphics work, they're spared many of the messy, error-prone details. As a result, they can now incorporate sophisticated 3-D graphics into many areas where they were previously avoided.
The Future Starts Here
Because DirectX is a homegrown Microsoft technology, there's no prevailing international standard or specification to prevent the company from enhancing or adding features, and Microsoft will likely do just that to gain a competitive edge. The surest sign of DirectX's importance to Microsoft is its R&D project code-named Talisman. Microsoft calls Talisman a "DirectX-based hardware reference design" for graphics, video and sound technologies. Microsoft has high hopes for Talisman: It's aiming for 1024x768 true-color graphics in 2-D and 3-D, with scene updates 75 times a second. Several companies are already working with Microsoft on the technology, including Cirrus Logic, Fujitsu Microelectronics, Philips and Samsung.
The first features from the Talisman initiative will be incorporated into DirectX 5, scheduled for release around midyear (DirectX 3 is in the OEM Service Release 2 version, and there will be no DirectX 4). DirectX 5 will enhance support for graphics boards with 3-D hardware acceleration and add support for faster drawing of polygons.
DirectX wasn't included in the original release of Win95, but vendors can freely distribute it with any program that needs it. If you're a gamer, you may already have DirectX on your system and not know it; Microsoft's Hellbender and Monster Truck Madness install DirectX 2 support.
Despite its pluses, DirectX has a potential problem that could actually degrade the performance of any programs that use it. The problem occurs when you install a new program with a generic DirectX 2 driver and your system already has a version 1.0 driver that's specific to your graphics board. Like most setup components, DirectX Setup will replace what it thinks is the older, less-capable driver on your system with its newer driver. Normally, this is a good thing, but it can lead to mysterious and frustrating problems, such as a sudden dramatic drop in a critical program's performance. If you want to restore the older driver you'll have to re-install it manually, assuming you can locate a copy. Microsoft says DirectX 3 solves this problem, but you're still exposed if you install a program that replaces your DirectX 1 support with DirectX 2 files.
At this writing, Direct3D still isn't available for NT 4.0, even though the other DirectX components (DirectDraw, DirectPlay, DirectSound and DirectInput) are already built in. Microsoft says by the time you read this, Direct3D support will be part of NT Service Pack 3. But unlike the Win95 version, it won't be redistributable, so any program that uses Direct3D will run only on Windows NT systems with SP3 installed.