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The End (of Java3D) and the Beginning (of JOGL)?

Posted by editor on July 28, 2003 at 6:52 PM PDT

Anecdotal evidence has been brewing for a while that the Java 3D API has been in a state of decay. Today's events seem to resolve the situation, with a much more promising future for 3D graphics in java than when we woke up this morning, even if that future doesn't seem to include Java3D itself.

Much speculation about Java3D has come from developers on Mac OS X, which has never enjoyed a publicly-available implementation of the API, despite many heated appeals to both Sun and Apple to make it happen.

In June, a thread appeared on the Apple java-dev list entitled "Any mentions of Java3D at WWDC?". In a response, Paul FIsher summarized what he'd heard and seen at JavaOne and the Apple WWDC. He wrote:


This would jive with what seemed to come out of Java One which, to
paraphrase, was basically:

While Sun isn't getting rid of Java3D they aren't exactly pushing it or
particularly supporting it. Since JOGL was mentioned at JavaOne and
Java3D wasn't you can reach your own conclusions. As others have stated
over the last week or so, Java3D is not particularly likely to show up
on OS X (unless Sun all of a sudden decides to simply open-source it
... given that it seems headed for the dust-bin I would settle for a
'port' of the black-down version to OS X ... performance warts and
all).

The topic came up again today in a discussion of Java API's that have native-code requirements and, per apparent Sun policy, are not ported to Mac OS X. Norris Weimer connected more of the dots in his message, in which he noted:

  • that the chief architect of Java3D, Doug Twilleager, was now re-introducing himself as the chief architect of the Java Games group
  • that Twilleager was pointing people to a project providing open-source Java bindings to the OpenGL graphics library
  • that none of the developers previously known to be working on Java3D was now known to be working on it

For those who read the tea-leaves, the message was clear: Java3D was done for, and it appeared the preferred alternative would be to use JOGL, hosted right here on java.net. It was all over but for the press releases.

The first one appeared today.

On SGI's website, the press release announces "SGI and Sun Microsystems' Software Platforms to Work Seamlessly Together with Java Bindings to OpenGL... Joint Development Agreement Will Enable Millions of Java Users to Easily Employ OpenGL for Wide Range of Graphics Needs". An identical article appeared on Sun's site, though there has not yet been a mention of the announcement on the JOGL or Java3D page, nor here on java.net.

The reaction is sure to be controversial, especially among those who have invested in Java3D. While that API will presumably continue to work as it does today, developers generally avoid buying into a technology that with no future. On the other hand, supporters of OpenGL, and developers on Java3D-less platforms are sure to be delighted, since this will get them into the 3D-in-java game.

There's also a big picture that merits consideration. The idea of Java3D was to provide an isolation layer between java and an operating system's underlying 3D toolkit - generally meaning DirectX on Windows and OpenGL on other desktop OS's. The fact that that this strategy has been rejected, apparently in favor of getting OpenGL onto Windows machines, raises interesting questions about how practical such an isolation-layer strategy is. Is it too much work to provide the appearance of a happy and fast java 3D API, and easier to just pipe calls to a native API? On the other hand, does this approach make sense for java on hypothetical operating systems that don't use OpenGL, for example game consoles? Will java paint() itself into a three-dimensional corner?

Interesting times... in the Chinese curse sort of way.

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