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.
Created November 23, 2005.