Microsoft's next browser, Internet Explorer 9 (IE9), will offload image and text rendering chores to the PC's graphic processor, one way the company plans to increase the browser's overall performance, according to the firm's top IE manager.
But Microsoft won't be alone. Rivals including Mozilla, which makes Firefox, and Norwegian developer Opera, are working on ways to use a computer's graphics processor unit (GPU) to accelerate their browsers.
In a follow-up interview, Dean Hachamovitch, the general manager for IE, explained one way that Microsoft would speed up IE9.
"One reason why you get such great value from PC hardware comes from the machine's graphics, [so] we're moving IE on top of the modern Windows graphics engine, DirectX," said Hachamovitch. Specifically, IE9 will ditch Windows' GDI (Graphics Device Interface) used by earlier versions for image rendering, and instead call on the Direct2D and DirectWrite APIs (application programming interfaces) to render two-dimensional images and text, respectively.
Those APIs shift the processing from the PC's CPU to its GPU. "Graphics hardware acceleration means that rich, graphically intensive sites can render faster while using less CPU," Hachamovitch said.
Although Hachamovitch declined to peg a goal for IE9's hardware-based acceleration, he said early results have been encouraging. "On top of GDI, we were seeing IE render at 5-10 frames per second. Users don't know whether that's [caused by] the network, or a site script, but it just seems kind of slow to them. Using [Direct2D], we're seeing 40, 50 or 60 frames per second. That's game-like responsiveness."
Because the image and text rendering -- DirectWrite results in much sharper text -- is done by Windows in conjunction with the GPU, there's nothing Web site or Web application developers will have to do to make their sites seem faster to IE9 users. "Web developers can take advantage of the hardware ecosystem's advances in graphics, but don't have to rewrite their sites to do that," Hachamovitch said.
Microsoft isn't alone in exploring graphics acceleration: The top engineers at Mozilla and Opera both said that their companies are pursing the same grail.
"We have our own projects to use OpenGL on open platforms, and Microsoft's APIs on Windows," said Mike Shaver, Mozilla's vice president of engineering. OpenGL, or Open Graphics Library, is an open-source set of function calls used to render two- and three-dimensional images.