Today has been an interesting day for those interested in GPGPU (General Purpose computing on the GPU), and Apple's support for this technology could mean that the next incarnation of Snow Leopard could leave Windows 7 eating its dust.
Today at SIGGRAPH Asia the Khronos Group, which describes itself as a "member-funded industry consortium focused on the creation of open standard, royalty-free APIs to enable the authoring and accelerated playback of dynamic media on a wide variety of platforms and devices" has released the OpenCL 1.0 spec. OpenCL is noteworthy because, according to the Khronos Group, it is "the first open, royalty-free standard for cross-platform, parallel programming of modern processors found in personal computers, servers and handheld/embedded devices."
So, what's the big deal about GPGPU? Well, because of the huge parallel capabilities that graphics processors offer, tapping into the GPU would benefit applications that leverage parallel processing. This no only means applications such as image and video processing, but also more advanced and demanding features such as real time ray tracing, life-like gaming and voice processing and much more. All this is off in the future, but both NVIDIA and ATI have pledged support for OpenCL. OpenCL has a huge industry-following: 3DLABS, Activision Blizzard, AMD, Apple, ARM, Barco, Broadcom, Codeplay, Electronic Arts, Ericsson, Freescale, HI, IBM, Intel Corporation, Imagination Technologies, Kestrel Institute, Motorola, Movidia, Nokia, NVIDIA, QNX, RapidMind, Samsung, Seaweed, TAKUMI, Texas Instruments and Umeå University.
Now, notice how Apple is on that List and that Microsoft is not. That's of interest because Apple is scheduled to bring OpenCL to the desktop. In fact, Apple is already pushing the benefits of OpenCL:
Another powerful Snow Leopard technology, OpenCL (Open Computing Language), makes it possible for developers to efficiently tap the vast gigaflops of computing power currently locked up in the graphics processing unit (GPU). With GPUs approaching processing speeds of a trillion operations per second, they’re capable of considerably more than just drawing pictures. OpenCL takes that power and redirects it for general-purpose computing.
No backing for OpenCL from Microsoft won't mean that the benefits of OpenCL won't come to Windows (after all, OpenCL is cross-platform) but it does mean that while Apple is baking technologies into the Mac OS that will be of benefit to developers and end users, Microsoft is left twiddling bits and releasing a revamped Vista. That's a potential PR issue that Apple could pounce on.
OpenCL certainly feels like it's the beginning of something very interesting, and it could well bring a mainstream relevance to multi-GPU PCs. ATI and NVIDIA will sure like that!
[UPDATE: TG Daily shares some thoughts on OpenCL:
"OpenCL in Snow Leopard may very well be only a technology showcase, but if it provides those dramatic speed improvements Apple promises and if it sparks the development of a wave of new applications, then Microsoft may have a much bigger problem at the end of next year than it has today. A cleaned up interface and touchscreen support (see our slideshow) may not cut it".]