Google, Mozilla Back 3-D Acceleration Web Standard

The Khronos Group will lead development of an open, royalty-free standard for presenting accelerated 3-D graphics online.
In an effort to address one of the last major deficiencies of the Web browser as a platform for application delivery, a consortium of tech companies that includes Adobe, AMD, Apple, Google, IBM, and Intel on Tuesday announced an effort to develop an open, royalty-free standard for presenting accelerated 3-D graphics online.

Prompted by a proposal from Mozilla, the Khronos Group said it has created a working group called "Accelerated 3D on the Web." Mozilla has offered to chair the group, which is open to any interested company that joins Khronos.

The Khronos Group has helped develop a variety of graphics standards, including OpenGL, OpenGL ES, OpenCL, OpenMAX, OpenVG, OpenSL ES, OpenKODE, and Collada. The consortium includes most of the major computer technology companies, with the notable exception of Microsoft, which left the OpenGL standards group in 2003 to focus on DirectX, its own set of graphics APIs.

The Khronos Group said it will look at ways to expose OpenGL (a cross-platform graphics API) and OpenGL ES 2.0 (a pared-down version of OpenGL for graphics on embedded devices) within ECMAScript, of which JavaScript is a dialect.

What that means is that applications that require advanced graphics will look better and run more quickly inside Web browsers. As the proposed standard takes shape, applications running in browsers will become more competitive with applications running locally in terms of graphic sophistication. But improved graphics won't do much for responsiveness issues arising from network bandwidth limitations and latency.

In a statement, Google engineering director Matt Papakipos expressed his company's support for the plan. "With more and more content moving to the Web and JavaScript getting faster every day, the time is right to create an open, general-purpose API for accelerated 3-D graphics on the Web," he said. "Google looks forward to offering its expertise in graphics and Web development to this discussion."

Like Mozilla, Google is eager to see the browser become a better framework for application delivery. It recently introduced a Web site called Chrome Experiments to show off what can be done with JavaScript.

In a blog post on Tuesday, Mozilla's graphics team lead Vladimir Vukicevic also expressed enthusiasm for the Khronos plan. "Web applications already have access to features that have traditionally been reserved for desktop apps, including being able to work while offline, storing data locally, multiple choices for 2-D graphics, and native audio and video support," he said. "Adding 3-D to this mix ensures that current Web apps can experiment with new user experiences, while also enabling new classes of Web applications."

Vukicevic stressed that it's important to begin working on this standard now because most desktop computers and the latest crop of smartphones include hardware-acceleration support. Hammering out the standard now will enable Web developers to take advantage of the capabilities of emerging hardware.

Chris Blizzard, Mozilla's director of evangelism, said that he expects the new graphics capabilities would be integrated into the Firefox browser that follows the release of Firefox 3.5, which is what the current Firefox 3.1 beta 3 should become. Firefox 3.5 is expected to be officially released in the second quarter of this year.

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