In August 1999, nearly 50,000 devoted graphics users from more than 75 countries came to the Los Angeles Convention Center to attend the world's largest conference devoted strictly to computer graphics: the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) Special Interest Group for Computer Graphics' SIGGRAPH '99. This event marked the 30th anniversary of SIGGRAPH and was the 26th annual conference. SIGGRAPH is a mixture of serious scientific presentations and panels; leading-edge demonstrations in graphics, animation, and multimedia; an art show; and a trade convention, with more than 325 exhibiting companies.

At SIGGRAPH, vendors get to show off their computer graphics, which consume enormous resources and require the adoption of advanced technology to continually push the envelope for greater effects. Vendors do a lot of business at SIGGRAPH, and they do much of that business on Windows NT workstations and servers—but NT wasn't always present. In previous years, Apple Computer's Macintosh predominantly held the desktop market for applications and hardware, and a variety of UNIX systems from vendors such as Silicon Graphics Incorporated (SGI) ran the high-end software and hardware. SGI had a small presence, and I was surprised to see how little the company had achieved with the Silicon Graphics visual workstations for NT—a compelling product.

In the past 3 years, industry followers have witnessed a sea change in the graphics application marketplace. Companies such as Quark and Adobe Systems, which used to release Macintosh application versions first, now release Windows versions first. At this SIGGRAPH, Macintosh played a minor role. The majority of desktop applications ran on Windows, and NT boxes were everywhere. UNIX retained its majority of higher-end applications in areas such as visualization and rendering, high-end animation, and special effects. But these applications weren't the majority, and neither was UNIX.

NT made some inroads into server applications, such as file-and-print and Web services. BOXX Technologies' FusionBOXX HD showed uncompressed High-Definition Television (HDTV) editing and compositing. The FusionBOXX HD comes with eyeon Software's Digital Fusion HD, which is integrated with the Alias|Wavefront and eyeon Software product Maya Fusion.

NT also made progress with hardware vendors. Both Compaq and Dell offer packaged workstations for the graphics market that they bundle with high-performance graphics boards such as 3DLabs' Oxygen VX1.

On the showroom floor in several vendors' systems was Intergraph's Intense3D Wildcat graphics board. Intergraph's new all-black Zx ViZual Workstation for NT is available with dual 18" flat panel displays mounted side by side on a pedestal. Intergraph also showed its RAX HD Animation Recorder, which can convert various video formats and different frame rates.

Several of the demonstrations were notable, including a completely digital recreation of actors' faces called digital cloning from Virtual Celebrity Productions. I estimated that about half of the digital recreation projects used Windows as the computing platform, and most of the remainder used UNIX boxes.

Digital content creation is a voracious consumer of data. Some of the first major implementations of storage area networks (SANs) and Ultra Fast I/O technologies are for film and animation projects. Vendors developed many of these products as NT Server solutions. Several storage vendors such as DataDirect Networks, which provides small to midsized SAN implementations for NT workgroups, and nStor Technologies, which showed its AdaptiveRAID software product for NT, were present at the show.

At a technology demonstration called The Millennium Motel, you could see leading-edge projects such as advanced robotics, intelligent agents, new design tools, animation programs, computer immersion projects, and musical composition projects using computer recognition of a person's movement on a stage. The projects included the Alice Interactive 3D Graphics Programming System from Carnegie Mellon University, contributions from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Laboratory, and new developments from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

SIGGRAPH was doubly interesting this year because of the impending release of Windows 2000 Professional (Win2K Pro), which Microsoft has poised to compete more seriously in the graphics-workstation market. The system vendors, particularly those with systems on multiple platforms, think that Win2K Pro might take as much as 40 percent of the graphics-workstation market within a year or two. Vendors feel that Windows-based workstations are reasonably priced and have a wide range of hardware and peripherals that can benefit the graphics market. Molly Connolly, the workstation marketing manager for Digital Content Creation at Compaq, thinks that Microsoft (with Win2K Pro's handling of fonts and color) has poised Win2K Pro to take over the professional publishing market. I plan to check out the mixture of platforms and technologies in July at SIGGRAPH 2000 in New Orleans. Jambalaya!