Office, OpenGL, DirectX, Windows 10: Some random rambling

Just reading up on some technology news regarding DirectX and OpenGL (well, the more accurate comparison would be between OpenGL and Direct3D) specifically around the ‘future’ of those frameworks with Microsoft focusing on DirectX 12.0 and WDDM 2.0 on Windows 10 when compared to the rumoured big announcement at the Gaming Developer Conference ( link ) where the much promised OpenGL NG will be announced by major players in the gaming which will unify OpenGL ES and OpenGL into a single framework that can span from smartphone to tablet then all the way up to workstations running the latest hardware to power the most sophisticated CAD software on the market. OpenGL NG also promises to get rid of years of cruft and modernise the framework into something that is coherent to the same degree that DirectX is to developers – make life easier for developers and gain mindshare over the competition.

In the world of OpenGL there appears to be a renaissance with Playstation 4 being based on FreeBSD with OpenGL, Android and iOS both using OpenGL ES, the emergence of SteamOS and the phenomenal growth of Mac sales with the corresponding OS X user base making it the largest commercial certified UNIX distributor on the market in terms of volume – 5.5million units per quarter. Then add on top of that a new group that is managing the development of OpenGL, Khronos Group, has pushed forward development but it is still very much in the same place after the ill conceived ‘Long Peaks’ project that was an attempt to do exactly what OpenGL NG is trying to do (some might argue that ‘Long Peaks’ was trying to overhaul OpenGL but on a much smaller scale) yet failed due to factional infighting between the various different vested interests resulting in nothing happening and here we are.

Things have changed though, Apple has Metal on iOS which strips off all the abstraction provided by OpenGL ES and exposes the bare metal to the programmer so that they can squeeze every last bit of processing power out of the GPU for their game. I’m unsure to what degree game developers are utilising it but if Apple is providing such a framework then they must have had a chat to developers to bounce ideas off of to see whether there was sufficient demand for such a feature. The problem is with Metal is now they’ve got a ‘mobile only’ technology that, if they want to encourage cross platform development between iOS and OS X they’ve just made the situation even worse and I doubt they would be able to get ‘Metal’ to work on OS X then getting it to support Intel, AMD and nVidia based GPUs. The upside though is with so many powerful voices in the OpenGL mix ranging from Google to Apple not to mention the numerous game developers the situation is a lot different than when ‘Long Peaks’ was tried which was pre-Android, pre-iPhone, and just after the migration from PowerPC to Intel for Apple. The old guard for OpenGL development were still in charge and very little influence could be had by the likes of Apple or Google to really push things forward.

Although things have changed though I can’t help but feel as though we’re having deja vu all over again where although the major powerful interests might ‘get their way’ but we’re sitting here with OS X and it still hasn’t been upgraded to OpenGL 4.5 which would bridge the gap and make life easier for IOS developers wanting to make writing code for OpenGL all that more easier. The only saving grace for OpenGL are some developers simply unwilling to limit their options by binding themselves to a single platform solution even if that single platform solution makes life a whole lot easier as a result so they put up with OpenGL annoyances because in the larger picture the alternative isn’t all that much better.

The alternative is Direct3D (since DirectX is more of a collection so the correct comparison would be OpenGL versus Direct3D) and Microsoft’s strength lies in the fact that they have a stack that spans from the smartphone to the tablet then up to the workstation then across to the Xbox One along with everything in between that exists or yet to come – from a Lumia phone to a Hololens, all of which are powered by Windows with a DirectX stack sitting on top of it all. The benefit of having Microsoft leading from the front with AMD, Intel and nVidia (along with ARM for its own GPU) all consulting together is there is a single point where the decisions is made – devoid of the politics that come with a committee trying to make a decision and a single decision decision is made without all the hang overs associated with ‘a camel is a horse designed by a committee’ where the outcome is a compromised half baked solution that is a shadow of what is actually required.

The big play that has come with Windows 10 has been the introduction of WDDM 2.0 and DirectX 12 where the core of Windows is shared across all the devices and what that means for a developer is the time expended working on high optimised and tweaked code with DirectX can be carried through across many devices. The other part of the equation that poses a threat to Apple is the promise of a low level API component of DirectX that’ll deliver what Metal (Apple) and Mantle (AMD) promise developers but in a GPU vendor agnostic way – that as a developer you can squeeze every last bit of horse power out of the GPU and not have to care about the underlying nuances of the GPU – the thinnest of abstraction and the greatest of manual tweaking but without the head ache of going back in time to vendor specific tweaks and vendor specific hardware and software bugs to deal with.

If you’re a developer already aiming at Xbox One or the hard core gaming market there is the ability to scale down to a Windows Phone 8.1 device although there are some slight differences ( link ) but I think that is more about features not being there rather than it being a framework with the same name but having to write specifically for it. The big question is whether the gaming companies are happy to create for Windows Phone 8.1 or whether it is more worth their while jumping through a few hoops to target iOS and Android even if it means having to use something like DirectX to OpenGL ES translation tool (IIRC provided by Google).

The other cool thing I also noticed Office for touch can be used on a traditional desktop environment so if I do move to the Windows world with Office 365 I’d probably end up using the one available through the App Store – a universal application based on WinRT and all the benefits that come with the territory. It is interesting to see how Outlook is being downplayed in favour of Outlook as part of the Windows 10 operating system which makes me wonder whether some time in the future we’ll see Outlook eventually to be killed off and universal applications replace the standard win32 one so then eventually it means that Microsoft can have fewer programmers maintaining a cleaner code base that targets more operating systems without the need of maintaining difference code bases each with their own ‘issues’.

Rumour has it that Windows 10 will be released in June 2015 although according to Mary ( link ) she speculates that it’ll be closer to autumn in the United States which translates to around the end of September and remembering that because they can sent it straight to the web and OEM’s there doesn’t need to be the lead time between golden master and sending it off a CD pressing then shipping boxed copies off to a retail store in time for the ‘grand launch’.

5 thoughts on “Office, OpenGL, DirectX, Windows 10: Some random rambling

  1. I have to admit that I am looking at Windows 10 and Office (both the Touch version and Office 2016 that just went into preview) – and I am thinking, based on the kind of work I do these days, that a new Windows 10 laptop combined with my Office 365 subscription may be the best value proposition.

    If I were to buy right now today, I would probably get either a Dell XPS 13 (the one with the really thin bezel) or a ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch – I can’t really see my tastes changing too much between now and whenever Windows 10 ships, so I suspect I’ll wait until then and buy a decently spec’d version of one of those two machines.

    To be sure, the Retina MacBook Pro 13 looks nice and I’d also consider the rumoured 12-inch Retina MacBook (if it materializes) – we shall see, in any case, it is a good time to be shopping for a new machine since there is lots of competition.

  2. The Office 365 is a pretty good deal to be honest especially when you throw in OneDrive and the Skype minutes – I’m still holding off to see what Office 2016 is like for Mac, there could be a good chance that it isn’t a giant disappointment and it will be a fresh start for their Mac product range which will hopefully translate into a regular updates and upgrades rather than the current situation of 4 years where Office was left barely on life support.

    The Thinkpad X1 Carbon looks nice but my experience with the crapware that Lenovo bundle even with their corporate laptops is pretty annoying and embedded so deep that even uninstalling the crapware never really gets the system back to the pristine state of Windows. That being said on the ‘Windows Weekly’ with Leo Laporte, Paul Thurrott and Mary Jo Foley (which can be viewed on YouTube) Leo noted that he purchased the new Dell XPS 13 and there wasn’t much crapware which isn’t surprising given that my experience with Dell is that they tend to be pretty boring, some basic applications like Acrobat, Flash and a few other things that most people would install but nothing annoying to the same degree as something like what HP do with their consumer laptops which are more crapware than computer.

    The big thing I’m holding out for either a refresh of the iMac 5K for a GPU with more grunt to be able to drive the screen without driving the temperature of the GPU north of 100°C – hopefully a R9 M300 range given the rumoured performance improvement which will mean that it can drive a 5K display but worse case scenario hopefully we’ll see an 880M or 980M in the refresh model then the M300 appear in the 5K with the 5K geared towards the prosumer with the iMac ‘non-Retina’ (possibly a 4K model?) geared towards the gamer and tech enthusiast. With that being said this comparison:

    http://gpuboss.com/gpus/Radeon-R9-M295X-Mac-vs-GeForce-GTX-780M

    Shows that even today going for a 780M in an iMac is still going to be good value for money given that the performance on a non-Retina screen is going to be pretty good considering that the M295X although maybe slightly powerful will find that the extra grunt is used up to drive a 5K display with little in the way of ‘grunt’ left over to do anything more. Credit won’t be paid down until the end of April but hopefully by that time we’ll see a refresh of the non-Retina one or maybe a 4K iMac at the non-Retina iMac price.

    1. Those are all great points – I too am waiting to see how Office 2016 turns out on the Mac. If Microsoft “does the right thing” and it is a virtual clone of the Windows experience, then I would be quite pleased and could see myself getting another MacBook of some sort.

      If I were to buy right now, the Dell would get the edge because of the crapware and especially because of the “Signature Edition” that Microsoft offers through the Microsoft Store. I’ve been looking at that option since you buy direct from Microsoft and get something without crapware, for the same price or sometimes a bit less, depending on the model. The X1 Carbon isn’t offered by the Microsoft Store, so it may be “out” as I don’t feel like doing a clean install from the stock image and losing – then having to go and find – drivers. Lenovo’s driver page can be annoying, to say the least.

      Sometimes I wonder too if I shouldn’t be looking at a desktop again, and then a cheap (near disposable) machine for on-the-go use. Right now, I often remote access my machines at home via a Chromebook, and I could do the same with one of the new HP Stream “Winbooks”, yet still have Office on the machine to allow offline work.

      1. One of those things I wished Microsoft did – signature range laptops and Microsoft stores or at the very least Microsoft opening a ‘store inside a store’ by teaming up with the likes of Noel Leeming, Harvey Norman or Dick Smith because as Paul Thurrott noted, it is one major factor that undermines all the hard work Microsoft has with Windows. Windows has its issues but it isn’t helped when OEM’s load crapware and ‘custom software’ – the only hope is that we see OEM’s take advantage of OneGet and Settings customisation in Windows 10 to avoid all these bits of software that is preloaded.

        I was hoping that at some time in the future that Office would be written to run on top of WinRT and in turn Microsoft make WinRT sit on top of OS X’s low level API’s meaning that when it comes a universal application they can move their code from platform to platform without having to make major changes. Hopefully what that should mean is complete feature parity across the board rather than a situation of somethings on Windows not being available on OS X and vice versa.

        Those new low end Stream notebook look interesting particularly with the work that Microsoft has been doing to improve the efficiency of their operating system and if HP charged an extra $50 to make them crapware free it would make for an interesting competition when compared to the Chromebook. Not to be outdone the Chromebook will soon have the ability to run Android applications – Microsoft is providing Microsoft Office for Android and combine that with Skype etc. the experience should be pretty good especially now that Microsoft has promised that they’re going to provide Microsoft Office for Android x86 which opens up a new front when it comes to low cost laptops running Intel’s SoC with Android. Personally I think it’ll have a greater impact on Windows than Mac if there is an uptick in Android x86 adoption by laptop, tablet and smartphone vendors.

        Looking forward to a refresh of the iMac line up soon; enjoying being unplugged from pay tv and streaming every thing on demand.

  3. Yes, I agree with you – there is only *one* official Microsoft Store anywhere close to my home, and that’s a 6-hour drive away, so I’ve never been. The closest Apple Store is about 2-1/2 hours away, true, but on the other hand two of the local shops have rather prominent Apple kiosks within them (almost approaching the “store inside a store” as you said.

    That’s why I may end up just ordering directly from Microsoft, to get the crap-free models. I can “try before I buy” at a local shop and then know whatever I purchase will be a bit quicker.

    I too am hoping that Microsoft does the next version of Office properly and we get feature (and interface) parity on Windows and OS X. This would mean a choice for me, but it is good to be able to choose between a decent Windows machine and an Apple machine yet still get the best experience for myself.

    I also hope Google gets on with things with respect to Android on Chrome. There is a third-party version of the runtime that allows you to run as many Android apps as you wish, and several tools to download and convert .apk files into Chrome apps.

    That’s all great, but the process (while not difficult) is beyond the reach of a lot of people, probably most typical Chromebook users. For me, the Android tablet versions of the Microsoft Office apps would turn a Chromebook into a very powerful machine. The Office Online apps are useful but with no offline mode, still limiting.

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