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Wanna know what's next in the PC mainstream? Just watch the enthusiast market, and AGEIA PhysX is the new one to watch
This was originally a blog post I wrote for DailyTech back in 2006. I had fully forgotten that I wrote this. Even in rereading it, I initially didn’t realize that the first two paragraphs were sarcasm (/facepalm). Not all of this came to pass, and AGEIA did go the way of AdLib and 3dfx, but the technology ended up at NVIDIA (as did 3dfx’s). I still feel that “heavy” folders sounds pretty cool. What do you think?
The year - 1993. Everywhere, WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3 users were clamoring for the new Pentium being offered by Intel. "Oh, how it will let us word-smith and number-crunch as never before," they cried. Due to the excessive heat of these 60MHz and 66MHz beasts, average office workers ran their units with covers removed and oscillating fans wafting over them.
Still, this was not enough, and over the next few years Intel continued to pursue speeding tickets in the name of office efficiency and eventually added the afterburner known as MMX. Over the years, the continued demands of office applications and Internet surfing caused Intel to push the boundaries of good sense in search of one more MHz.
This is the history of modern computing. Bloody hell, what a load of rubbish. Time and time again PC history shows that the gaming market telegraphs the next "big thing" in the mainstream market -- with a few possible exceptions.
My dorm neighbors in college didn't want Pentiums for reports and projects. They wanted Pentiums for Doom. These guys actually got permission from the department of housing to string Token Ring network cabling through the dorm hallways for multiplayer. And today, I don't know anyone without a network, usually wireless, in their home.
CD-ROMs? People bought them for Myst, often in a bundle. Sound cards? AdLib and Creative built a market by adding multi-timbre sound to games, not by adding sound effects to PowerPoint slides. 3D cards? 3dfx broke out in the 3D market back in 1996 with the original Voodoo - an add-on card with a proprietary API. Today, Microsoft is preparing to ship Windows Vista - a mainstream OS that is fully 3D accelerated and Apple did the same thing years before.
So why do I bring all this up? The next big thing is gaming is upon us, and I don't think any of us know exactly how far it will change the mainstream marketplace. This next big thing is the PhysX physics processor by AGEIA. While we already know that it has support from Unreal, and development tools like Maya and 3ds Max, what does the future hold? How long before transitions in PowerPoint or Pinnacle Studio are PhysX enhanced? Sound crazy? Maybe, but how many of us would like realistic wind, water, fire and particle effects in our slide and movie transitions? How about files and folder that feel "heavy" when you move them, because they are larger in size? Or, how about windows that collide and react realistically with each other (a la the menu screen in Meteos for the Nintendo DS) rather than stack, when you move them?
It could be crazy, and it may sound like overkill now, but not many of us thought about positional sound or a 3D OS environment back when AdLib and 3dfx released their initial products? Who knows where AGEIA and their PhysX technology will take us, but they are making waves in the gaming market - and that shouldn't be taken lightly. Let's just hope that AGEIA doesn't go the way of AdLib and 3dfx, while building a brave new market...
Be sure to stop by my site The Widescreen Gaming Forum to see an emergent technology go mainstream.