Silicon Graphics, Inc's OpenGL, or Open Graphics Language, was developed in 1991 and introduced in 1992 as a 3D graphics language. Today, this SGI technology is virtually always the graphics standard supported in Unix, Windows, and Apples' Macintosh computers. In the last 16 years, the performance of OpenGL has increased anywhere from a hundredfold to a thousandfold in a lot of important cross-industry raw graphics operations.
Virtual reality, science and information visualizations, CAD, flight simulators, and video games make heavy use of this SGI graphics technology, which can be used to create 2D as well as 3D graphics and images; today it's managed by the Khronos Groups, Inc, which is a not-for-profit technology consortium.
OpenGL is a standard specification which defines a cross-language, cross-platform API (Application Programming Interface); its interface comprises more than 250 different function calls for creating complex three-dimensional scenes starting with just simple primitives. It can be implemented as an OS extension or with a windowing system like X Window. OpenGL drivers are included in all high-end 3D display adapters.
OpenGL competes with Direct3D (Microsoft's DirectX), especially but not exlusively in video gaming. While Microsoft's Direct3D is of course a proprietary API for use with hardware 3D acceleration on the Windows platform, OpenGL is an open standard API providing an array of functions for graphics rendering; if hardware 3D acceleration is there to be used, it can be used by OpenGL. Since Silicon Graphic's API is open standard, Khronos manages it to minimize the possibility that erroneous code will be introduced into it by someone who, well, doesn't quite know what he's doing.
In fact, there's a project group called OpenGL Performance Characterization (OPC). The group is part of the group which manages OpenGL benchmarks. IBM'S Viewperf and the GLperf benchmarks are what the OPC endorses. OPC provides viewsets for using Viewperf, which is a collection of tests of OpenGL performance. In 2007, history was made when the OPC separated the viewsets from the Viewperf benchmark; this successfully created better efficiency.
Besides highly detailed graphics rendering, advanced texture mapping and CGI/special effects are also supported and made possible by this SGI technology. By SGI's keeping it a managed open source code, developers across different industries can leverage the OpenGL across any desktop and workstation platform, guaranteeing that is has a wide application deployment.
So, if you never realized before just how complete the penetration of Silicon Graphic is into the personal computing and computer graphics worlds, just think of where we might (not) be without them!