Houdini: Magic Doesn't Just Happen

Side Effects Software pulls the Linux penguin out of its hat with a port of Houdini.
Side Effects Take On Open Source

The developers and management at Side Effects have talked about open source quite a bit, says Salvini:

There was a great article on it by someone at Netscape about the business case for Open Source and how you might make money with that.

They had never had Open Source, but this got them tossing the idea around a bit, albeit without releasing all the bits and pieces of Houdini. The concept raised a lot of “what if” questions, but so far it hasn't gotten much past that point. They are obviously intrigued with the idea, however.

Side Effects does offer source access in a traditional sense with a developer's kit allowing access to header files and libraries, but the core remains proprietary, partly due to their concerns about maintaining product consistency. They do believe they offer extensibility with the plug-in interface. Salvini says that with high-level applications like Houdini, access to the core code is not as vital as access to the operating system source.

Paul doesn't think anyone at Side Effects actually uses Linux at home, although there may be one guy who has it. In fact, he says most of their developers don't even have systems at home. Apparently, they have lives when they leave work. I had to wonder a bit what that might be like.

Now that the Penguin is Out of the Hat

Although the Houdini port to Linux is big news for graphics nuts like me, don't expect to run out and pick up a copy of Houdini off the shelf at CompUSA. A single-seat license for Houdini runs about $17,000 US, with the developer's kit running an additional $4000 US. This is very high-end software for professional organizations.

Considering this high price, I asked Paul about his take on a more affordable modeling package that has developed a big following—Blender. He replied:

You can't compare the two. They really aren't in the same class of product. I didn't play with [Blender] long enough to do it justice, but obviously its price point is such that people will be able to take advantage of it just from a personal development level, i.e., an experiment in playing with graphics tools. You don't do that with a $17,000 product.

Unlike Blender, Houdini is a product that needs a bit of serious commitment from the user in order to warrant its expense.

However, the news of the Houdini port is important more for what it represents, the credibility it gives to Linux in the desktop graphics marketplace, than the product being produced. Salvini was right when he told me,

This article won't be about trying to sell Houdini to the readers—it's not priced for the average user—it's about how Linux is developing in the high-end, graphics workstation market. Side Effects has been pushing the hardware vendors in this direction quite a bit and I feel we'll be seeing some great success in the next year, to bring Linux into the graphics workstation market, which it really hasn't been to date.

He's right. Now that Houdini has made the jump, things truly are about to change.

Michael J. Hammel (mjhammel@graphics-muse.org) is a graphic artist wanna-be, a writer and a software developer. He wanders the planet aimlessly in search of adventure, quiet beaches and an escape from the computers that dominate his life.