For MAXON, a German 3D animation tool developer and publisher with roots in the Amiga home computer scene of the early 1990s, the move signifies a firm commitment to a range of open exchange and render formats increasingly used by the industry to improve 3D graphics authoring, acceleration and cross-platform compatibility.
“MAXON has always been dedicated to providing users tools that offer an intuitive workflow and cross-platform compatibility,” says MAXON Computer CTO and co-founder, Harald Schneider, adding that “open standards for file exchange and rendering graphics are a foundation for the successful cooperation of artists on their projects.”
MAXON is just one of over one hundred industry players now signed up to the non-profit Khronos Group. Originally founded in 2000 by companies including ATI, Intel, NVIDIA, Sun Microsystems and 3Dlabs, its list of members now include just about every notable hardware and software developer and vendor — not least Microsoft, Apple, Oculus, Pixar, Panasonic, Valve, VMWare and Adobe — along with several technology-savvy academic institutions. Having assumed the role of governing body for the OpenGL standard back in 2006, the Khronos Group is now responsible for a whole range of authoring, application acceleration and system integration standards, such as Collada, OpenKCAM and GITF.
This trend for promoting open standards goes hand-in-hand with the increasing acceptance of open source solutions beyond hobbyist and grassroots users, something that began in the 1980s with the arrival of the GNU Project and Linux. Its roots can be traced even further too, all the way back to the early days of computing when even operating systems were generally open source — due both the emphasis on hardware rather than software sales and also the active involvement of universities in the development of computing technologies.
Open standard remains somewhat distinct from open source, of course. Open source typically refers to a piece of code or a design that is free to share, use and modify. Open standards promote the sharing of formats without any restrictions relating to patents, copyrights, contracts or proprietary systems and so without any associated usage costs. They can, however, be implemented by either free/open source tools or via proprietary ‘closed’ technologies. Pixar published its RenderMan open rendering standard back in 1988, for example, but the RenderMan name more commonly refers to the company’s rendering software, which is very much a commercial toolset (albeit one that increasingly utilises open standards).
The benefit for computer graphics companies adopting open standards is increased cross-platform and cross-product compatibility. On an industry-wide scale, meanwhile, it’s generally accepted that open standards make for file formats that are less likely to become obsolete, are more reliable and stable than proprietary alternatives, and are hardware-independent and so partially future-proof. By signing up with the Khronos Group, Maxon not only benefits from the work carried out on its various open standards by other members, but will also be able to contribute to their continued development and improvement.
All in all it seems a good move.