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Microsoft WebGL Browser Technology Going Open Source

Microsoft announced this week that some of its technology used for WebGL graphics rendering in its Microsoft Edge browser is being released as open source code in the GitHub repository.

WebGL, or Web Graphics Library, was originally fostered by Mozilla as a browser plug-in substitute for rendering two-dimensional and three-dimensional graphics. It's a JavaScript API based on HTML5's Canvas element, but it taps a machine's graphics processing unit without using plug-in software. WebGL examples can be seen at this page.

The nonprofit Khronos Group maintains the specification for WebGL, which is implemented in Apple's Safari, Google's Chrome, Mozilla's Firefox and Opera Software's Opera browsers.

Microsoft, for its part, uses a renderer in its Edge browser to swap the WebGL content to its own DirectX subsystem in Windows. The Edge browser has a transpiler to covert the OpenGL Shading Language (GLSL) of WebGL to the High Level Shading Language (HLSL). It's this GLSL-to-HLSL transpiler that is getting released as open source code by Microsoft, according to its announcement. Chrome and Firefox browsers have similar functionality, but they use Almost Native Graphics Layer Engine (ANGLE) technology, Microsoft noted.

Microsoft at one time was an early critic of the use of WebGL in browsers, saying that some security risks were involved. Its Internet Explorer 11 browser checked for "unsafe WebGL content," Microsoft claimed.

In bringing its code into open source, Microsoft aims to "improve interoperability across browsers." This HLSL-to-GLSL transpiler code release may not be the last of its kind as Microsoft "may expand the scope of the release to other subcomponents over time," according to the announcement. However, it doesn't signify that the Edge browser will be going open source.

"At this time we have no plans to open source Microsoft Edge or EdgeHTML, but we understand and value the importance of being more open with our roadmap and our core technologies," Microsoft's announcement clarified.

It's not first such open source browser technology contribution. Microsoft released its Chakra JavaScript engine to GitHub as open source code last year. It's known as "ChakraCore" and follows an MIT license.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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