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The Linux Gamers' How-To

By The Linux Documentation Project

3.3. What is OpenGL?

OpenGL is a high level graphics programming API originally developed by SGI, and it became an industry standard for 2D and 3D graphics programming. It's defined and maintained by the Architectural Revision Board (ARB), an organization which include representatives from SGI, IBM, DEC, and Microsoft. OpenGL provides a powerful, complete and generic feature set for 2D and 3D graphics operations.

There are 3 canonical parts to OpenGL:

  • GL: The OpenGL core calls

  • GLU: The utility calls

  • GLUT: OS independent window event (mouse, keyboard, etc.) handler.

OpenGL is not only an API, it's also an implementation, written by SGI. The implementation tries to use hardware acceleration for various graphics operations whenever available, which depends on what videocard you have in you computer. If hardware acceleration is not possible for a specific task, OpenGL falls back on software rendering. This means that when you get OpenGL from SGI, if you want any kind of hardware acceleration at all, it must be OpenGL written and compiled specifically for some graphics card. Otherwise, all you'll get is software rendering. The same thing is true for OpenGL clones, like Mesa.

OpenGL is the open source equivalent to Direct3D, a component of DirectX (Section 3.14 ). The important difference being that since OpenGL is open (and DirectX is closed), games written in OpenGL are much easier to port to and co-develop on Linux than games written using DirectX.

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