Microsoft Uber Alles

(This column first appeared in the March 26, 1996 issue of PC Graphics Report)

Okay, so by now some of you may have noticed that I am PCGR’s resident Microsoft skeptic and critic. It’s not that I despise Microsoft, because I don’t. I suppose it’s more of a combination of the fact that I always tend to root for the underdog – that applies to books, movies, and industries – and because I resent having someone else’s vision forced down my throat (and into my computer). In my humble opinion, Microsoft tends not to be the underdog (and when they are, they don’t do a good job playing the part), and Microsoft is well known for forcing its technology down one’s throat.

Microsoft’s not bashful about letting the market know what it wants to accomplish, which most frequently is control of yet another part of the market. It seems to me that nothing frightens Microsoft more than when it thinks it can’t control a situation. Note that I refer to Microsoft as a singular entity, because as a company, virtually everything I’ve seen Microsoft do in the last several years follows a single-minded determination uncommon among companies Microsoft’s size.

Don’t get me wrong, I respect what Microsoft has accomplished, but I rarely (maybe never?) approve of their methods. When Microsoft wants something, anyone in their way should dive aside or else be flattened. I view Microsoft as the ultimate capitalist enterprise. However, pure capitalism tends to ignore the common good, favoring profit (and the requisite domination) over everything else. Ten years ago you wouldn’t have caught me saying that. My, how time changes one’s views…

The Direct3D Dilemma
So the big question this week is, did Microsoft screw up with Direct3D? That question can be taken many ways. For example, am I referring to their purchase of  RenderMorphics? Or the name? Or the delay in getting a working Direct3D out the door? Or starting with 3D-DDI and totally changing it, and calling the result Direct3D? Or derailing industry efforts at something similar?

It’s probably a combination of all of these, but the biggest issue now is that Microsoft has let down the game development community by slipping their Direct3D schedule. The original goal for many developers was to have Direct3D-based games on store shelves well in advance of Christmas 1996. Now, it appears at least some developers have given up on that plan and are instead performing numerous hardware specific ports to forthcoming 3D devices, because it’s a sure bet that at least those will be ready in time for the Christmas season.

Looking at the cause of this, I believe it’s because Microsoft was overconfident that it had better resources and technology than anyone else (once they bought RenderMorphics), and understood the 3D market better than any other company. It appears Microsoft was wrong. It’ll be very interesting to see what the first publishers of Direct3D-based software have to say about Direct3D and its effect on their market windows, product performance, and perception of Microsoft’s 3D prowess.

DirectDraw On-Line Commentary
Earlier this year, I joined the VRML mailing list, where dozens of messages a day flash across the ether, covering all aspects of VRML technology. Recently, in a discussion dealing with Direct3D support for Netscape Live3D (which uses RenderWare as its rendering engine), Kate Seekings, Microsoft’s 3D Evangelist, confirmed that currently, RenderWare does not support Direct3D, but is working with Microsoft to make that happen. Kate also noted that while DirectX will not be available for Windows 3.1 (all of you knew this, right?), DirectX is making its way to Windows NT.

In particular, the full implementation of DirectDraw will be available for Windows NT via the upcoming Shell Update Release, while DirectSound and Direct3D will be available in a software emulation mode only. The DirectSound emulation will be in the Shell Update Release alongside DirectDraw, while the Direct3D emulation won’t make it into Windows NT until the first Service Pack after the Shell Update Release, perhaps in Q3’96. A fully hardware accelerated Direct3D for NT could be available before the end of the year.

Seekings further offers that anyone wanting to get involved with the Direct3D Beta program under Windows 95 should contact her at kates@microsoft.com.

Next Week…
I’ll be reporting to you live from the Computer Game Developers Conference (CGDC) in the next issue. Let me know via e-mail (jake@jpa-pcgr.com) if you have some interesting insights to share while at CGDC. Until then, this is Jake, signing off.