Microsoft, SGI ink pact to co-develop software

Agreement could spell trouble for others in graphics market

Microsoft Corp. got one large step closer to universal acceptance on the professional graphics front Monday when it announced plans to jointly develop drivers and other software with one-time enemy Silicon Graphics, Inc.

The announcement, made jointly by Microsoft and SGI, calls for the companies to jointly create a new 3-D Graphics Device Driver Kit, in an effort to solve the problem graphics professionals have had working in either Windows 95 or Windows NT.

The two companies’ new “baby” should also make for much warmer relations between Microsoft and the industry’s leading graphics hardware manufacturers, such as Diamond Multimedia, Matrox Graphics, STB Systems and others. Microsoft has long been seen as inflexible and unwilling to modify its software code for the sake of easier interaction with newer 3-D graphics chips and software.

Microsoft also said that it would embrace the OpenGL graphics standards, something it was equally loath to do before the joint breakthrough with SGI. OpenGL, overseen by an eight-member Architecture Review Board manned by industry executives, seeks to provide an open standard for graphics software and hardware. Because it was developed primarily by SGI, Microsoft was reluctant to modify its software code to embrace OpenGL, but since the announcement Monday, all this is bound to change in a hurry.

Such close cooperation with SGI likely spells further trouble for beleaguered Apple, Inc., which had previously worked closely with SGI on professional applications and hardware. Now that Microsoft has taken its partner away, Apple will have a much harder time finding a replacement.

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