Hardware-accelerated 3D graphics are coming to the web sooner than you might think thanks to a joint project dubbed WebGL. It was initiated by Mozilla and the Khronos Group, which oversees OpenGL, and is supported by most major web-browser manufacturers, with the expected exception of Microsoft. WebGL uses the OpenGL graphics API for the underlying low-level technology, but, on the Windows platform, Microsoft's own DirectX API enjoys a much broader and solid support than OpenGL. This has prompted Google to create the ANGLE (Almost Native Graphics Layer Engine) project, which aims to make it possible for WebGL to rely on Direct3D, the 3D graphics component of DirectX, rather than OpenGL.
"We're happy to announce a new open source project called Almost Native Graphics Layer Engine, or ANGLE for short. The goal of ANGLE is to layer WebGL's subset of the OpenGL ES 2.0 API over DirectX 9.0c API calls. We're open-sourcing ANGLE under the BSD license as an early work-in-progress, but when complete, it will enable browsers like Google Chrome to run WebGL content on Windows computers without having to rely on OpenGL drivers," Henry Bridge, product manager at Google, wrote.
Google’s explanation for the reasoning behind the project is simple. Direct3D is much more popular on Windows and there are many cases where OpenGL drivers aren't available or aren't installed for a user's particular graphics card. This would make WebGL content unavailable to plenty of users on Windows, which is the dominant desktop operating system platform.
The ANGLE project will create equivalents for most of the OpenGL ES 2.0 API, the OpenGL API for embedded system on which WebGL is based, so its applications may be greater than just for web graphics. The OpenGL ES platform is used by many mobile platforms, including Android, iPhone and Symbian, so ANGLE could be used during the development process allowing the apps to be tested on Windows machines.
WebGL has been seeing some traction and several browser makers already have some support for the standard. The Webkit rendering engine introduced preliminary support a few months ago, meaning browsers like Safari, Chrome and plenty of others will be able to process WebGL content. Mozilla is also working on supporting the graphics API. The WebGL standard has now reached draft stage.