USB monitor maker plods on without Apple’s help

DisplayLink lets computer monitors work over USB. The company offered up the first beta version of Mac-compatible drivers last week, though it cautioned that without Apple’s help, those drivers are unlikely to be able to achieve parity with their Windows counterparts.

Designed for computers with limited expandability, such as laptops, mini systems and all-in-one designs, DisplayLink’s technology lets you hook up a monitor over USB 2.0. DisplayLink’s drivers compress the video signal, enabling up to six monitors to work at a time. DisplayLink licenses its technology for use in products manufactured by LG, Toshiba, Samsung and others.

Up until recently, DisplayLink products only worked in Windows, but at the end of March DisplayLink began offering beta drivers that support Intel-based Macs running Tiger or Leopard.

The release notes for the beta drivers note that they lack any 2D or 3D graphics acceleration. DisplayLink said that they’re committed to making their Mac drivers as good as their Windows Vista drivers, including full support for OpenGL 3D graphics acceleration. That development is dependent on cooperation from Apple that they’re not getting, however.

“Unfortunately the Mac OS X operating system is a closed system, and unlike Windows XP and Windows Vista, it is difficult to make significant improvements without the direct support of Apple,” the note reads.

The note directs users interested in seeing the drivers improve to contact Apple to let their interest be known.

Apple leverages an open standard — OpenGL — as Mac OS X’s Application Programming Interface (API) for graphics, but how the graphics hardware interacts with the rest of the system is a different story, according to Jason Slaughter, DisplayLink’s director of marketing.

“There’s no open documentation of the display subsystem,” Slaughter told Macworld.

Slaughter said that Apple works with individual graphics hardware vendors like ATI, Nvidia and Intel to expose the functionality that DisplayLink needs in order to improve its drivers.

DisplayLink gauged the interest of Mac users by exhibiting at Macworld Expo this past January, and found that a lot of attendees wanted their hardware. Slaughter added that individuals at Apple have been receptive to DisplayLink, as well. “We’ve gotten a lot of good support and feedback from them,” he said.

But that feedback hasn’t translated into Apple opening the books on the graphics subsystem. As a result, DisplayLink’s engineers have cobbled together what they can, but the relatively small company is limited to what they can do without Apple’s direct help.

As it stands now, said Slaughter, the beta drivers are “absolutely perfectly usable.” Slaughter said that individuals at DisplayLink are using the drivers themselves. But there’s a lot of room for improvement, if they can get Apple’s cooperation.

An Apple spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment as Macworld posted this article.

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