Conix 3-D Explorer

This software, from Conix Enterprises, is an add-on package to Mathematica that allows you to use OpenGL 1.0-based rendering features directly from within the Mathematica environment.
Programming

OpenGL programs can be written directly within Mathematica with the help of GLExplorer. All of the OpenGL core functions are accessed with the prefix gl, such as glBegin[GlLineStrip] or glVertex[0,0]. Similarly, the OpenGL Utility library functions are accessed with the glu prefix. This is just as you would use them in any other OpenGL application written in C, for example (although C syntax differs from Mathematica's—the function names are the same). In the case of windowing commands, GLExplorer prefixes commands with glM, such as glMCreateWindow[] or glMGetWindowOptions[glwin,ErrorTrapping,ImageSize].

The section in the User's Guide on using these direct access commands to OpenGL is limited to defining their use. It leaves the explanation of what they are used for to the canonical texts on OpenGL from Addison Wesley, which are quite good. If you intend to become more familiar with OpenGL for use with Mathematica and GLExplorer, I highly recommend these books.

Summary

Overall, the speed of GLExplorer's rendering engine is very good. I use a Cyrix 200 with 64MB of memory and none of the examples in the on-line manuals took more than a few seconds to generate. They also reacted interactively quite well—interactive rotation and translation of the displayed images was smooth and immediate. This is all done with software acceleration; no 3-D hardware acceleration was used. It should be noted, however, that few lights were used in the examples and the distributed OpenGL libraries could not be compared to similar software-accelerated libraries from Mesa or Xi Graphics.

GLExplorer offers the user a method of building an OpenGL-based image from a command line, step by step. You can even use Mathematica to write an OpenGL program and run it directly from within Mathematica, then let GLExplorer handle the image display and interaction for you.

In setting out to write this review, I wanted to discover if a novice user such as myself could get up and running fairly quickly. As it turns out, with the fairly good 3-D Explorer documentation and Mathematica's terrific Help browser, I was able to find my way around both tools quite easily. If you are looking for a way to integrate your Mathematica notebook graphics with OpenGL, Conix 3-D Explorer may just be your ticket.

Michael J. Hammel (mjhammel@graphics-muse.org) is a Computer Science graduate of Texas Tech University, and a software developer specializing in X/Motif. Michael writes the monthly “Graphics Muse” column in Linux Gazette, maintains the Graphics Muse web site and the Linux Graphics Mini-HOWTO, helps administer the Internet Ray Tracing Competition and recently completed work on his new book The Artist's Guide to the GIMP, published by SSC, Inc. His outside interests include running, basketball, Thai food, gardening and dogs.

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