Graphic Engine Definition

A graphic engine is software that is used by application programs to draw graphics on computer display screens.

Engines are usually thought of as being mechanical devices, such as a steam engine or an internal combustion engine. Indeed, the first computers, the difference engine and the analytical engine, were large mechanical devices that employed some of the same technology that was used in other types of engines of the time1.

In recent years, the word engine has come back into use in the computer field to refer to software that performs some specific type of rendering or powering for other programs, such as a text-to-speech engine, a database engine, a layout engine and a graphics engine. A database engine, for example, is the part of a database management system (DBMS) that stores and retrieves data. Programmers can control such engines directly with their application programming interfaces (APIs), rather than going through the application programs' user interfaces as ordinary users do.

The X Window System is the de facto standard graphic engine for Linux and other Unix-like operating systems. It is a large, complex, cross-platform, and highly configurable client/server system that is independent from the operating system. This contrasts with the various Microsoft Windows operating systems and the earlier Macintosh systems, whose graphic engines are integral parts of the operating systems.

1The difference engine, designed by Charles Babbage, an English mathematician, was intended to use a series of gears and numerous other mechanical parts to perform mathematical calculations. Babbage began construction around 1822, but he was not able to complete it during his lifetime, presumably because manufacturing techniques were not sufficiently advanced. His specifications called for approximately 25,000 parts, which would have had a total weight of more than 15 tons. Babbage subsequently attempted to develop an analytical engine, which could be programmable using punched cards. A working model of the difference engine built to his original specifications was finally completed in 1990.

Created November 23, 2005.
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