The Future of Windows Graphics Technology

Preview: Longhorn completely reshapes the way Windows handles graphics. DirectX will become an integral part of the operating system, opening up a wealth of 3D technology to any applications. We look under the hood to see how it all fits together.

Last week we attended several presentations discussing the future of Windows graphics at WinHEC. What follows is culled from two presentations given during the graphics track on May 27th, 2005. David Blythe, one of the lead architects in the Windows Graphics and Gaming Technologies group, gave a talk titled "Windows Graphics Overview." The presentation on "Advances in Display and Composition Architecture for Longhorn" was given by Kam VedBrat, Lead Program Manager of the Windows Client Team and Greg Schechter, one of the Windows Client Team architects.

Underlying Longhorn is the Windows Graphics Foundation, or WGF. The first version, prosaically dubbed "WGF 1.0" will incorporate DirectX 9.0c as its primary interface. Longhorn will also have the next-generation 3D API also built in at release. You can think of it as "Direct3D 10," but its currently called WGF 2.0.

One of the key pieces underlying WGF is the Longhorn Display Driver Model (LDDM). With it, Microsoft is aiming for that ideal situation of "graphics just works." For example, if you upgrade a graphics driver today, you typically have to reboot the system. One example of the "graphics just works" mantra is one of LDDMs goals of allowing installation of graphics drivers without needing to restart the system. LDDM will actually ship in two stages. The first, called "basic," supports current generation graphics hardware: shader model 2.0 and 3.0 capable hardware. The second generation of LDDM, "advanced," will support hardware features that ship on or after the Longhorn timeframe, but will work with the new features in WGF 2.0. Given the competitive nature of the graphics hardware business, its highly probable well see advanced LDDM capable hardware before Longhorn actually ships. The current Windows XP driver model is still supported, but will be frozen going forward. Continued...

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