Open Source vs. Microsoft graphics technology

I got a surprise when I compared OpenGL and DirectX to see which was more popular. I was about to take a thwack at the open-vs.-closed-source hornet’s nest to see who I could irritate when I rediscovered that intuition and information are two entirely different critters. My thesis was that Microsoft’s graphics API “DirectX” was both superior and more popular than the open source graphics product called “OpenGL.” I believed that MS’s ability to drive the market, ally with device manufacturers and fund new development would lead inevitably to better technology and more popularity for DirectX API. But how do you prove that one technology is superior or more popular than another?

One way to measure the relative health of a technology is to see who’s willing to pay you for your particular brand of foolishness. Here are some extremely unofficial results from popular job listing sites that surprised me:

                             DirectX OpenGL               62 55         71 72   9 24          6 13       0 5    15 17

                                  163 186

I expected to see Microsoft’s technology pulling down many more job offers. But as you can see, it is only on Dice that there are more job listings for DirectX than for OpenGL; and even there, the margin is not very large. On all the other sites, OpenGL has more listings, and the total number of listings for OpenGL is greater than for DirectX. Statistics like this are not definitive proof of either popularity or technical superiority, but they do offer a simple heuristic that suggests something of the true state of affairs in the real world. Certainly information like this is more valuable than merely reading press releases on a vendor’s web site.

Consider the following questions: Of the jobs above, which are better paying? Which jobs were just including technology buzzwords? What does this imply about the future quality of either API? The job listings table above tells me is that one technology is not clearly superior to another.

Just to muddy the water, Google shows 3,120,000 DirectX hits to 2,530,000 for OpenGL. Once again, it is hard to draw definitive conclusions from this statistic. Which is more important to you: the number of references on the web, or the number of job offers? It is hard to say for sure.

The open vs. closed source question reminds me of the old days arguing whether Delphi was better than VB (well duh) or C++. With .NET, language dialect is decoupled from compiler functionality and this becomes a mute point; much like the kids in the movie “Stand by me” debating if Mighty Mouse could beat up Superman. In the end we fall back to more sensible questions like “what is the best tool for the job you need done”. In future articles I willcompare DirectX with OpenGL and how best to use each.