Fahrenheit: No Spontaneous combustion here!

What is/was Fahrenheit?

Fahrenheit was the name of a collaborative project between Silicon Graphics and Microsoft (and HP) for developing a suite of high-performance visualization technologies for Silicon Graphics IRIX and Microsoft Windows/DirectX platforms. It was paraded out with a lot of hoopla by both companies officially at Siggraph 1998 and by 2000 it was obvious that something was wrong. SGI was (in 1998) losing income to PC’s so they took the (belated) step of embracing PC’s & Windows (By this time most of the stalwart Gates/Windows haters had left for the greener pastures of Internet startups, Linux companies or 3D graphics chip companies. Leaving only those without the vision but willing to make a deal to survive.) It wasn’t soon before SGI discovered that it was really difficult to make folks pay big bucks for a PC that was less graphically powered than what you could get from Dell or Gateway with one of those 3rd party graphics cards powering it. (It must have been great payback for those ex-SGI’ers working at those companies!) It wasn’t soon before SGI’s head (Rick Belluzzo) got hired by Microsoft and SGI quit the PC market, bloodied and bruised to go up against Sun again in a fight they could win, or at least hold their own.)

I actually held out great promise for Fahrenheit (Hell, I got a t-shirt out of it) as ending the great graphics API wars that ran rampant over the latter half of the century (OK, OK – from 1995-1999). I was pretty tired of OpenGL loosing ground while Microsoft made up for lost time for is monumentally stupid purchase of RenderMorphics and the long road to make it a real 3D API. If we could all program to a higher API, what was the importance of the underlying 3D graphics API? The hardware manufacturer could choose the one they liked and Fahrenheit would hide the details. Sounded great. Actually, it was a project to sink SGI & OpenGL (probably unintentional, but Microsoft has been known to do things like that…not that SGI needed any help to sink themselves…).

Fahrenheit was run by Jay Torborg at Microsoft and Chris Insinger at SGI. Basically SGI’s programmers were (and did) take a lot of what they had learned with Open Inventor and Performer and turn it into an OpenGL/Direct3D Scene Graph API. This was the Fahrenheit Scene Graph – eventually taken over entirely by Microsoft and called XSG for eXtensible Scene Graph. There was also a CAD/CAM – curved surfaces visualization API called Fahrenheit Large Model. Finally there was Fahrenheit Low Level – Microsoft commitment to replacing Direct3D with something else, and where the happy tale falls apart.

By 1999 it was pretty evident that the project was severely delayed if not doomed – SGI and Microsoft said that it was already a year behind schedule. The problem was the Low Level – contractually Microsoft was supposed to be working on this but in fact resources were working on DirectX 7. SGI was floundering at this time and very frustrated since they could not move on till Microsoft provided the low level interface. SGI soon gave up since they couldn’t really sue Microsoft since they were dependent upon them in other areas (like selling Windows PC’s. It was also this time that SGI’s CEO quit and resurfaced at Microsoft – ain’t that a coincidence!) They soon gave up and relinquished control of Fahrenheit to Microsoft. Microsoft did release version 1.0 of Fahrenheit Scene Graph in 2000 (as I recall) along with a note that it would no longer be supported – in other words, stillborn. A shame as the interface was quite nice – essentially like Open Inventor but with an eye towards fast execution and access to the underlying graphics API.

If anyone has details or corrections feel free to mail them to me – let me know if I can post them here or just smile in secrecy.

Amusing Historcal Note: On April 16, 1998 I got a phone call from Scott Rubin of Gamasutra TV. He wanted to know if I could attend (via phone) a Fahrenheit webcast interview with Kurt Akeley (SGI) and Jay Torborg (Microsoft) in an hour. I said sure. At the appointed time I joined in the interview. I was quiet for the first 40 mins while Jay and Kurt talked about the greatness to come. Scott then asked me if I had any questions. My first question was about the lateness of the project. Kurt urgently had to go before the question was answered. Two more questions then Jay abruptly had to go too, leaving Scott and myself to wonder…

Another Amusing Historcal Note: By 1996 SGI was a hurting company, no longer able to command premium prices for workstations when commodity PC graphics cards could deliver most of the same performance for about 20x less cost. They were under Chapter 11 at this time. In January 1998 they hired 23 yr HP veteran Rick Belluzzo as Chairman and CEO. He promptly some questionable things;

  • Dropped a patent infringement lawsuit with NVidia, and agreed to license NVidia’s patents instead.
  • Quit the PC market (the Visual Workstation PC) before they had actually really entered it.
  • Kill SGI’s popular MIPS processor in favor of Itanium.
  • Killed their internal high end graphics team.
  • Told the low end graphics team that they were working on what was now going to be an NVidia part and they would be NVidia employees after the product shipped. (Part of the NVidia deal!)
  • Set SGI working with Microsoft on Fahrenheit – essentially tying SGI’s fate to Microsoft’s implementing Fahrenheit so SGI could have a market.

These things pretty much killed any hope of SGI ever regaining it’s status as a graphics workstation powerhouse, partucularly when Microsoft pulled out of Fahrenheit – leaving SGI with no outlet for it’s commercial products. But that’s OK because 17 months after taking the job at SGI, Belluzzo left SGI to head Microsoft’s MSN division – eventually becoming President and Chief Operating Officer of Microsoft. But he left Microsoft after just fourteen months.

Below is the initial press release for Fahrenheit.

SGI and Microsoft Form Strategic Alliance to Define the Future of Graphics

Collaboration Enhances Advanced Visual Computing and Applications on Windows And Brings Unique Value to Silicon Graphics’ Future Windows-Based Products
MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., Dec. 17, 1997/PRNewswire/ — Silicon Graphics Inc. (NYSE: SGI – news) and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT – news) today announced a strategic alliance aimed at increasing graphics capabilities for a wide variety of consumer, business and professional customers. Drawing upon each company’s industry-leading expertise, this initiative will significantly advance graphics technology and create a common, extensible architecture that will bring advanced and powerful graphics to the entire computer market. The companies have agreed to jointly define, develop and deliver these new graphics technologies as part of a project code-named “Fahrenheit.”‘

The Fahrenheit project will create a suite of application programming interfaces (APIs) for the Microsoft(R) DirectX(R) multimedia architecture on the Windows(R) operating system and the Silicon Graphics(R) UNIX-based platform. An API is a common interface with which developers can leverage the full acceleration capabilities of a computer. Fahrenheit will incorporate Microsoft Direct3D(R) and DirectDraw(R) APIs with Silicon Graphics complementary technologies such as OpenGL(R), OpenGL Scene Graph(TM) and OpenGL Optimizer(TM). The Fahrenheit architecture will be the basis for innovative third-party graphics and visualization applications including Internet, games, business, digital content creation, CAD/CAM, medical and scientific applications.

“Silicon Graphics and Microsoft have been working together since 1991 to develop OpenGL for Windows NT(R),” said Dr. Jon Peddie, president of Jon Peddie Associates and one of the industry’s leading 3-D graphics analysts. “The Fahrenheit project inaugurates the next phase of that long-standing relationship. Fahrenheit paves the way for a truly scalable computer graphics software framework that will satisfy ISVs all the way from low-level APIs to full-blown scene graphics with large model visualization and heavy-duty ‘visualization simplification’ functions. This is something the industry has wanted and needed for a long time.”

This alliance is part of an expanding relationship between Silicon Graphics and Microsoft that enhances Silicon Graphics’ development of high-value Windows-based visual systems. Through this agreement, Silicon Graphics will apply its core competencies to define the Fahrenheit framework upon which Silicon Graphics will continue to develop differentiated graphics systems.

During the development of the Fahrenheit project, Microsoft and Silicon Graphics have also agreed to work together in support of the development of Windows-based graphics applications for professionals through the OpenGL APIs and the development of Windows-based graphics applications for consumers through the Direct3D API.

“Today, Silicon Graphics and Microsoft are defining a clear path for developers that enables both of us to expand the market for graphics,” said Ed McCracken, chairman and chief executive officer of Silicon Graphics. “This also marks Silicon Graphics’ first step toward implementing its strategy to participate in the larger market for a graphically oriented Windows NT-based systems.” “We’re delighted to be working with Silicon Graphics to enhance and drive innovation on DirectX and Windows as a key platform for 3-D graphics and visualization,” said Paul Maritz, group vice president of the platforms and applications group at Microsoft. “The industry’s graphics leaders are collaborating on a standard that will expand the market for developers for Windows while benefiting the entire market.”

Fahrenheit: Common Architecture for Innovation
The Fahrenheit project will produce the following three components:

  • Fahrenheit low-level API will become the primary graphics API for both consumer and professional applications on Windows. The Fahrenheit low-level API will evolve from Direct3D, DirectDraw and OpenGL while providing full backward compatibility with applications and hardware device drivers written for Microsoft Direct3D and functional compatibility with Silicon Graphics’ OpenGL technologies.
  • Fahrenheit Scene Graph API will provide a higher level of programming abstraction for developers creating consumer and professional applications on both Windows and Silicon Graphics IRIX operating systems. This API will evolve from Silicon Graphics’ current Scene Graph API. The Fahrenheit Scene Graph API provides high-level data structures and algorithms that increase overall graphics performance and assist the development of sophisticated graphics-rich applications.
  • Fahrenheit Large Model Visualization Extensions will be based on the Silicon Graphics OpenGL Optimizer API and complementary DirectModel API from Hewlett-Packard Co. [NYSE:HWP – news] and Microsoft. They will operate in conjunction with the Scene Graph API. The large model visualization extensions add functionality that will allow the interactive manipulation of large 3-D models such as an entire automobile. The Large Model Visualization API adds functionality such as multiresolution simplification to the Scene Graph API so developers can easily write applications that will interact with extremely large visual databases. This technology will also be designed to enhance legacy applications with new large model visualization capabilities.
    The agreement to collaborate on the Fahrenheit APIs builds on a growing cooperation between Microsoft and Silicon Graphics. Most recently, the companies agreed to collaborate on a new 3-D Graphics Device Driver Kit (DDK) to support OpenGL on the Windows 9X and Windows NT platforms.

The agreement also builds on the significant graphics expertise of each company. Silicon Graphics will draw on its extensive knowledge and core competency in graphics, visualization and imaging, and the overwhelming market acceptance for OpenGL. Microsoft will draw on the acknowledged graphics expertise of its DirectX development team and on the world-renowned Microsoft Research Group, as well as on the leadership of the DirectX APIs and the rich operating system services afforded by the Windows platform.

The Fahrenheit APIs will be developed in conjunction with software and hardware development partners. Microsoft and Silicon Graphics are committed to an open design preview process during which input on the API designs will be solicited from all interested parties. In particular, Microsoft and Silicon Graphics will work together with other industry leaders — including Intel Corp [Nasdaq:INTC – news]. — to evolve the Fahrenheit APIs. Specifically, Intel will work with Microsoft and Silicon Graphics on the Fahrenheit low-level API to ensure maximum support of the Intel Pentium II processor.


Microsoft and Silicon Graphics engineers will begin development on Fahrenheit APIs and extensions immediately. They will deliver new APIs, DDKs and Software Development Kits (SDKs) in phases over the next two and a half years. Phase One will be the delivery of the Fahrenheit Scene Graph and Large Model Visualization in the first half of calendar year 1999 for Microsoft Windows and Silicon Graphics IRIX. Phase Two will be the delivery of the Fahrenheit low-level API in the first half of calendar year 2000 on Microsoft Windows only. For the Windows platform, Microsoft will be the direct source for licensing, certifying and distributing the SDKs and DDKs. For the Silicon Graphics IRIX platform, Silicon Graphics will be the direct source for licensing, certifying and distributing the SDKs and DDKs.

For more information on the Fahrenheit APIs, developers should visit http://www.sgi.com/fahrenheit/ or http://www.microsoft.com/directx/.

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