Simulation software shifts from Unix to Windows NT

ORLANDO, Fla. - As the use, capability, and diversity of computer-based simulation and training grew during the 1980s and 1990s, the operating system of choice was Unix. As a result, officials of Silicon Graphics Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., slowly pulled much of the computer market to their Unix-only workstations and systems.

Feb 1st, 1998

By J.R. Wilson

ORLANDO, Fla. - As the use, capability, and diversity of computer-based simulation and training grew during the 1980s and 1990s, the operating system of choice was Unix. As a result, officials of Silicon Graphics Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., slowly pulled much of the computer market to their Unix-only workstations and systems.

Later, however, increasingly fast microprocessors from Intel Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif., and its competitors - as well as dramatically improved capabilities for the Microsoft Windows NT operating system - have combined to erode the dominance of Unix sharply, even to the stage where Silicon Graphics leaders now have introduced a Windows NT-based system.

Further acknowledging this new paradigm was the announcement of the Fahrenheit project, a joint effort to support development of Windows-based graphics applications through the Silicon Graphics OpenGL application programming interfaces (APIs), and of Windows-based graphics applications through Microsoft`s Direct3D API. The result, leaders of Microsoft and Silicon Graphics predict, will be the emergence within the next two years of a truly scalable computer graphics software framework for everything from low-level APIs to high-order scene graphics.

Leaders of the two companies also have agreed to collaborate on a new 3-D Graphics Device Driver Kit (DDK) to support OpenGL on the Windows 9x and Windows NT platforms. These efforts also involve Intel, whose engineers will be working on the Fahrenheit low-level API to ensure maximum support of the Intel Pentium II processor.

Silicon Graphics chairman Ed McCracken terms Fahrenheit as an expansion of the graphics market that "also marks Silicon Graphics` first step toward implementing its strategy to participate in the larger market for graphically oriented Windows NT-based systems."

Some long-time Silicon Graphics/ RISC/Unix stalwarts also are moving quickly to the Intel/NT environment. Bruce Caridi, marketing vice president of Paradigm Simulation Inc. of Dallas says he does not want to forsake the relationship with Silicon Graphics upon which his company was built - but adds he also does not plan to ignore the winds of change.

"We have a reputation of being a high-end tool provider, but we decided we needed an NT environment and have now established new relationships with Intergraph and Digital, whose help we need to get our software out to the large base of NT users," he says. "NT is a volume opportunity. Our business has been built on selling very high-end, expensive tools to a very niche market. NT is the complete opposite. But if that market takes off, we want to be there with the right tools."

Paradigm officials sees the simulation market evolving into two primary requirements: training and engineering."

"We make 70 percent of our sales to engineering simulation - people who are validating designs - even though most of our software originally was written to the training environment," Caridi says. "Two of our largest customers right now are Lockheed Martin and Boeing doing engineering simulations on the Joint Strike Fighter."

He points out that simulation is only part of the equation. "A lot of CAD companies also are interested in integrating simulation with design. And military simulation is more and more involving verification and validation of how a system or vehicle will perform in the field," Caridi explains. "We`re getting a lot of interest from the missile community, for example, partly because we have just recently integrated IR, radar, and visuals, all correlated off the same database."

MultiGen Inc. of San Jose, Calif., is another operating system convertee, where officials already are shipping some of their modeling tools for NT, and plan to offer the entire line for both NT and Unix.

Another change involves the military - and other simulation customers - making the Internet an integral part of the future, from delivering upgrades, to distance learning, to collaborative visualization. In fact, this use of the Internet is part of the Defense Department Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative, along with interactive intelligent courseware that replicates many attributes of tutoring and tailored software.

Salvaging the investment the military and other users already have in large legacy systems is another potential growth area for some software developers.

"You can`t customize and recustomize legacy code the way it has been done in the past," explains Philippe Collard, president of Virtual Prototypes in Montreal. "Most of our customers have simulation systems in house, but a lot of the companies that built those legacy systems are gone. We can buffer them from the cost of maintaining that baseline. Most of those are involved in modeling and need a simulation infrastructure to generate targets, define scenarios, etc. That is not part of their core business, but is a costly piece to acquire and maintain. What we do is provide that infrastructure."

Collard says he sees a lot of growth potential in aerospace and defense as money shifts from a few big systems to a large number of low- and medium-end systems. And into that mix he adds an industrywide shortage of programmers as yet another spur for companies that can provide tools and infrastructure - not necessarily end user applications - to support these new requirements and those still evolving.

"Simulation-based acquisition is an area where we see very high potential - testing out new weapons systems in a synthetic environment before any manufacturing is done," Collard says. "We provide the tools to put those synthetic environments together. We furnish the framework where you can plug your models into an entire battlefield environment."

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