2D, Acceleration, And Windows: Aren't All Graphics Cards Equal?

Windows: Mouse As Window-Washer?

Let’s think back to 1985. This was the year that Mikhail Gorbachev became secretary general of the Communist party in the USSR, the year that Amadeus won the Academy Award for best picture, and the year that Ronald Reagan was sworn in for a second term as the 40th US president. Incidentally, and almost unnoticed, 1985 was also the year that Microsoft Windows 1.0 was first released.

“Window-less” Windows without even overlapping display areas“Window-less” Windows without even overlapping display areas

The idea of overlaying a virtual graphical interface on top of a character mode operating system wasn’t exactly earth-shattering, not even in 1985. In fact, this very approach is what companies like Microsoft and Digital Research used at this time to broaden their market appeal and to make PC technology accessible to a larger population of potential buyers and users. The idea was to make this software user-friendly enough so that non-IT professionals could put it to work without having to climb too steep a learning curve. Interestingly enough, contrasted against Windows 1.0, Digital Research’s GEM multi-user OS did support overlapping display windows back then.

Only from Version 2 forward does Windows really live up to its nameOnly from Version 2 forward does Windows really live up to its name

If 1987 had come and gone without the introduction of Windows 2.0, which did manage to support multiple, overlapping display windows, it’s entirely possible that nobody would know about Microsoft Windows today. In fact, Windows owes its very survival beyond the first two years of its initial introduction to someone who still holds great sway at Microsoft today — namely, Steve Ballmer. His advertising spot for Windows 1.0 remains unforgettable to this day, as does his chutzpah in pricing Windows 1.0 at the astonishing price of $99 (a veritable fortune in 1985), despite its lack of genuine support for real display windows. This guy has real entertainment value, and a genius for marketing.

Ever since the release of 2.0, Windows has been able to deliver (at least) evolutionary, if not revolutionary change in its subsequent major releases. In fact, revolutionary change is the sort of issue we’d like to address in Windows 7, the company's most modern release.

The latest version is the one that raises the very questions that forced us to look back to Windows’ very beginning. Our reasons are both simple and illuminating. Thanks to our comparison of windowing techniques, we learned that there are really two sides to the Windows graphics exercise: the graphical user interface, or GUI (we don’t include user customization here, but rather concentrate on the basic desktop look and feel), including window handling and management, plus the basic graphics functions used to create the desktop environment. In fact, windows display and management are two separate, if inter-related, activities in the Windows OS. Where the look and feel of the Windows interface has continued to change and evolve, underlying basic 2D graphics functions have remained surprisingly unchanged over time.

Well-informed readers already know that no pure 2D graphics really occur beneath a windows-oriented user interface. That’s why we explain in the next section that there is only a small set of 2D graphics commands, which must be examined in light of their rendering on a physical display as more or less three-dimensional in nature.