On Apple, and OpenGL

I’d planned on a big post for this. I’ve even got a mostly finished draft in a separate browser window – all lamentations and shame, shame, Apple, both for neglecting OpenGL so badly to this point and for closing the door on cross-platform 3D (well, outside of WebGPU, anyway). Let’s be clear, neglecting the implementation of a standard for a half decade when you’re on its advisory board was already sending a message. It’s been functionally deprecated for ages. And they’re eager for people to adopt their own API, Metal. But the truth is that this turning away from a widely supported spec is hardly new – Apple’s tuning out of the broader computing landscape.

Apple Corporate HQ. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Hell, look at their corporate headquarters. All within Apple points to itself and stares inward, and you can’t look outward without literally being in the loop. It’s reflective of the corporate culture – they buy their own hype, they eat their own dog food, and they’re now permanently within the RDF. I’ll grant it would be hard not to fall under the sway of your success when you’re the first company to approach a trillion dollar valuation. But that doesn’t make it any less smug.

I do miss the days when macOS (née OS X) was the operating system desktop Linux aspired to be, and what Windows clumsily mimicked. But as the plethora of iOS devices has ballooned in popularity, its relative stature has shrunken at Cupertino.  Since 2010 it’s slumped from being a useful tool set for getting work done to a sharing-focused, obnoxious ecosystem that itself apes iOS. The software polish isn’t there any more – the latest High Sierra release has been rocked by a string of security bugs, and despite the conservative scope of work from one macOS release to the next, it feels unfocused. Even Metal is itself a port from iOS. Ditto their dreadfully overdue new APFS filesystem, which would have been eagerly welcomed when Windows XP ruled the world. Ask yourself: when’s the last time an OS release for the Mac felt transformative?

The hardware isn’t doing much better – uneven additions of Intel’s newest CPUs and platforms aside, they’re continuing to fetishize smaller, thinner, and lighter, to the point of implementing easily breakable keyboards, replacing the tactile function keys with an oblong Apple Watch, and generally devoting as little unique R&D to the platform as possible. People have written enough to fill a book about how the Mac has been neglected, and Apple has been doing it for years.

People quail about video games on the platform too, and Apple’s stale OpenGL has been a pain for developers for a very long time. Middleware used to port games from other platforms to the Mac has already moved to a Metal translation layer from the cross-platform Vulkan API, so Apple’s refusal to implement native Vulkan support won’t hurt much there. Granted, if they go the extra mile and remove their OpenGL support, that will torpedo every game and piece of software using 3D for the Mac since they jumped to Intel back in 2006. I don’t know if Steam could continue to exist at that point without making a clean break. It would even clean out the Apple Store’s current Mac game lineup. The only solution floated is to create a wrapper that would translate OpenGL calls to equivalent Metal commands, and that’s complicated by three factors:

  • it isn’t an officially supported solution, meaning it would be up to a community or group to maintain it, and for users to manually go to the trouble to download it;
  • Metal doesn’t support all the functionality OpenGL does; and,
  • OpenGL is alive and well everywhere else in the software world, and continues to receive new features that would have to be backported.

For anyone conducting 3D data visualization, open source emulators, 3D modeling… hell, I hope they’ve moved on to other pastures. Unless you’re performing ordinary browser-centric desktop computing, the portion of audio and 2D multimedia work that Apple hasn’t fully alienated yet, or software development for the Mac or iOS and its cohorts, I wouldn’t assume Apple’s interested in taking care of you. And while I hope their abandonment of traditional computing costs them money… when you’re worth more than a small country and have ubiquitous mindshare, you could coast on inertia for ages and still be functionally inescapable.