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OpenGL is 20 years old and needs to be updated, says the Khronos Group

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August 12, 2014

Graphics standards body the Khronos Group has called on the IT industry to help draft the next generation of the OpenGL specification, a potential major rewrite that's expected to help unify the OpenGL development model for desktop PCs, mobile devices and the internet in general.

"Work on the detailed proposals and the various design implementations are already underway, and any company interested to participate in this initiative is strongly encouraged to join Khronos for a voice and a vote in the development process," the group said in a press release.

In a phone conversation last week, Khronos CEO Neil Trevett said that one reason why OpenGL needs a major update is because the hardware landscape is dramatically different today than when the standard was first implemented in 1994.

"OpenGL is 20 years old already and back then, RealityEngine hardware from Silicon Graphics was the typical target for the first generation of OpenGL," Trevett said.

"Obviously, hardware has significantly changed since then, especially on mobile devices. You see multiple-core CPUs, quite advanced GPUs, shared memory, etc, etc," he added.

Mobile devices are much on everyone's mind in the IT industry these days, with console-quality gaming on mobile phones just around the corner.

But Trevett sees the overall demand for OpenGL broadening even further, and at a faster pace.

"More and more platforms are becoming 3D capable," Trevett said. "It's not just desktop gaming PCs and workstations anymore. It's mobile devices, and it's web browsers everywhere, and it is cloud rendering, feeding across the web to clients. And there's quite a big market selling GPUs to the automotive industry.

One goal for the next-generation OpenGL standardization effort will be to simplify the OpenGL ecosystem itself and make it easier to develop applications for a wider range of targets.

For example, Khronos currently maintains the full OpenGL specification for desktop PCs. Version 4.5 was announced just yesterday, and it's a separate OpenGL ES specification for use on mobile devices.

Trevett hopes that under the new standard, this division will no longer be necessary. Additionally, subtle inconsistencies in how individual vendors implement the OpenGL ES specification can mean that overall application performance can vary from device to device, something the new standard aims to address.

"Khronos has definitely taken it on board for this generation. We don't just focus on the spec but focus on how we're going to make it even more reliable across multiple vendors," Trevett said. "And we're attacking that issue at a very fundamental level."

The new standard should have a more streamlined API so that it's easier to implement consistently, Trevett said, and it should also have a standardized intermediate language that's decoupled from the hardware acceleration that's available on each platform.

Khronos also plans to improve its conformance testing methodology so that implementation problems can be spotted before they go to market.

The group is even considering releasing its conformance testing as open source so that interested parties can help improve them, although it hasn't committed to this yet.

Trevett said work on the next generation of OpenGL is already well underway and progress is moving rapidly. The effort has also sparked various interest from unusual quarters, with "triple-A" game makers like Blizzard, EA and Epic joining the typical hardware and tool vendors at the table for the first time.

"Out of all of the APIs we've ever designed at Khronos, including the original OpenGL ES, this is the most positive energy and momentum that I've ever seen," Trevett said.

In other IT news

Lavabit founder Ladar Levison says he will soon design a military-grade email service from the ashes of Ed Snowden's favourite email client.

As many of you will remember, Levison killed the service to prevent his clients' information from getting in the hands of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations.

The popular thorn in the side of the U.S. spy apparatus updated the 2,000-strong audience of security hacks and privacy pundits on the Dark Mail project announced late last year.

Levison shot to fame in technology circles after he responded to a FBI demand for access to the private SSL certificates used to encrypt all email traffic on Lavabit by printing the keys on reams of paper in a 4-point font described by one prosecutor as largely illegible.

The move frustrated the FBI agents and Levison was subsequently slapped with a $5,000-a-day fine until he provided the keys, which he did, shortly before shutting down his email service.

Dark Mail has since expanded to include the Magma email server and the Volcano Mozilla Thunderbird desktop client, and has been re-branded as the Dark Internet Mail Environment (DIME).

To be sure, the platform broke up email headers encrypting each piece before it was sent so that no single email service could hold all of the data-- a bid to shake off further Lavabit-style requests from government spy agencies like the NSA.

It aimed to overcome user difficulty with encryption technology by adopting cryptographic profiles, dubbed signets, that could be shared with trusted users to operate much like PGP (pretty good privacy).

It also adopted three escalating security levels-- trustful, cautious and paranoid.

Yet for all the effort put into the project by Levison and fellow security and crypto luminaries Phil Zimmerman, Jon Callas and Mike Janke, Lavabit users could still be pawned by setting bad passwords.

"If your password is just 'love' or 'sex', nothing I can do will save you," Levison said at the DEF CON presentation this week.

"I’m not upset that I got railroaded and I had to shut down my business. Instead, I am upset of the fact that we need a military-specification cryptographic mail system for the entire planet just to be able to talk to our friends and family without any kind of fear of government surveillance".

The new service was hoped to be ready in time for the Chaos Communications Congress in Germany held a few days before New Year's Eve.

Dozens of software and services have already emerged to fight spying in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations in June 2013.

Overall, one of the more promising of these was the planned Invisible.IM chat platform which would utilize the Tor network to distribute chatter wrapped in OTR encryption with disposable and quickly scrubbed keys.

In other IT news

Chinese officials are reportedly denying news stories that the country has banned the purchase of Apple hardware for government IT projects for all of 2014 and 2015.

Reuters is suggesting that Apple computers and devices are not on its list of approved products, but not because the Communist nation blacklisted Apple over security concerns.

Instead, the government claims, Apple had not applied to be on its list of approved hardware vendors. However, companies and suppliers that have been approved for the list include Lenovo, Dell and HP.

But even without the approval, state officials are still allowed to acquire and run Apple products, according to the report.

If the report is true, the statements are at odds with earlier claims that Apple was struck from an official procurement list and, as such, employees of state-controlled agencies would no longer be allowed to purchase and use iPads or MacBook hardware for official business.

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Even if these latest reports prove accurate, all is not well between China and Apple. The iPhone and iPad maker has had a rough time so far with Chinese officials as of late, facing criticism in China for security concerns posed by the iPhone and the firm has been tied up in legal wrangling with the country's patent office over its Siri service.

To be sure, Apple isn't the only American technology company at odds with the communist country. Microsoft also faces antitrust proceedings as investigators are looking into whether the company illegally bundled its products with copies of Windows.

In other IT news

These days, it can sometimes seem that almost everyone is a true expert when it comes to network certification processes, and Cisco wants to change that. After all, Cisco has already help design and build about 80 percent of the internet's infrastructure.

Cisco has created a new method for people to prove their expertise in the form of a new Cisco Industrial Networking Specialist (INS) certification.

The new certification is for information technology and operational technology professionals in the manufacturing, process control, and oil and gas industries who install, maintain, and troubleshoot industrial network systems.

Cisco says the new certification is needed because IoT networks and the various devices on them aren't your grandfather's networks or devices, so the new designation is needed.

“There are literally hundreds of different protocols used by these devices,” Cisco says. “They may have very specific needs in terms of speed and frequency of connectivity. Many of them are very susceptible to changes in delay and latency, some of them connect intermittently, while others just come in range from time to time. Many operate 24x7 under the harshest conditions, and a lot of them where designed to operate in hierarchical and closed loop networks,” Cisco said.

All of which adds up to the need for a new certification. To score the cert, applicants will need to take a course called “Managing Industrial Networks with Cisco Networking Technologies”.

Source: The OpenGL Foundation.

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