2007 was probably The Year Of Free Graphics: AMD/ATI’s specs, a totally new Mesa, output hotplugging via XRandR and the announcement of new shiny OpenGL specs. While this all was truly great, the OpenGL releases never happened, and there are no updates on the topic.
Graphics in Free Software were always a difficult topic in former years: specs for many hardware bits were missing, proprietary drivers often didn’t support new hardware for several months, the graphics API (OpenGL) was seriously falling behind Microsoft’s competing API (DirectX) in terms of features and hardware support and last but not least the main free implementation of the API, Mesa, was hopelessly outdated.
But this all changed, and many important changes were in 2007:
- XRandR made output hotplugging possible
- Mesa was released in version 7.0, finally bringing OpenGL 2.x support to free graphics drivers
- It was announced that the OpenGL API would be released in a cleaned up version as well as a total new version pretty soon.
- ATI/AMD made an impact by releasing proper and detailed documentation for their graphics hardware
While this list is indeed impressive, there is one big gap: the announcement of the new OpenGL specs. These never happened. Not even a cleaned-up version of the current OpenGL API ever came up anywhere. And, although it was said that the communication with the community would be improved there aren’t any information available about the current state. In fact, all possible channels are deserted. The only bit of information available is a post by Barthold Lichtenbelt (OpenGL ARB Working Group chair) in the OpenGL forum dated end of October 2007 stating that the development of the next spec faced difficulties and that the release will be delayed:
The OpenGL ARB found, after careful review, some unresolved issues that we want addressed before we feel comfortable releasing a specification. […] None of these issues we found are of earth-shocking nature, but we did want them discussed and resolved to make absolutely sure we are on the right path, and we are. […] The ARB meets 5 times a week, and has done so for the last two months, to get this out to you as soon as possible.[…] We don’t want to spend time fixing mistakes made in haste.
More details will follow soon in an upcoming OpenGL Pipeline newsletter.
Of course unresolved issues can turn up. But in such cases a vital part of maintaining a community – and also a stable customer base – is to deliver more information from time to time. And it is important to state schedules as soon as it is possible. If something is difficult, than that must be stated. Communication also means to say something from time to time just to show: we are alive, we care.
But the OpenGL team has failed in that regard: the mentioned OpenGL Pipeline newsletter is totally outdated and therefore a joke, and the forums don’t contain any other official post explaining the situation.
I’m pretty sure that there is work going on behind the scenes – there are many different parties with a vital interest to ship a next generation OpenGL. But the total lack of communication, the inability to handle basic communication principles in the right way is depressing. OpenGL is not only a technology, but also a product, and if the product is managed that bad it can’t be good for the technology.
Also it leaves the sad feeling that, in respect of the API, the free graphics ecosystem is still back in the old days.