The Mesa project was originally started by Brian Paul. Here’s a short history of the project.
August, 1993: I begin working on Mesa in my spare time. The project has no name at that point. I was simply interested in writing a simple 3D graphics library that used the then-new OpenGL API. I was partially inspired by the VOGL library which emulated a subset of IRIS GL. I had been programming with IRIS GL since 1991.
November 1994: I contact SGI to ask permission to distribute my OpenGL-like graphics library on the internet. SGI was generally receptive to the idea and after negotiations with SGI’s legal department, I get permission to release it.
February 1995: Mesa 1.0 is released on the internet. I expected that a few people would be interested in it, but not thousands. I was soon receiving patches, new features and thank-you notes on a daily basis. That encouraged me to continue working on Mesa. The name Mesa just popped into my head one day. SGI had asked me not to use the terms “Open” or “GL” in the project name and I didn’t want to make up a new acronym. Later, I heard of the Mesa programming language and the Mesa spreadsheet for NeXTStep.
In the early days, OpenGL wasn’t available on too many systems. It even took a while for SGI to support it across their product line. Mesa filled a big hole during that time. For a lot of people, Mesa was their first introduction to OpenGL. I think SGI recognized that Mesa actually helped to promote the OpenGL API, so they didn’t feel threatened by the project.
1995-1996: I continue working on Mesa both during my spare time and during my work hours at the Space Science and Engineering Center at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. My supervisor, Bill Hibbard, lets me do this because Mesa is now being using for the Vis5D project.
October 1996: Mesa 2.0 is released. It implements the OpenGL 1.1 specification.
March 1997: Mesa 2.2 is released. It supports the new 3dfx Voodoo graphics card via the Glide library. It’s the first really popular hardware OpenGL implementation for Linux.
September 1998: Mesa 3.0 is released. It’s the first publicly-available implementation of the OpenGL 1.2 API.
March 1999: I attend my first OpenGL ARB meeting. I contribute to the development of several official OpenGL extensions over the years.
September 1999: I’m hired by Precision Insight, Inc. Mesa is a key component of 3D hardware acceleration in the new DRI project for XFree86. Drivers for 3dfx, 3dLabs, Intel, Matrox and ATI hardware soon follow.
October 2001: Mesa 4.0 is released. It implements the OpenGL 1.3 specification.
November 2001: I cofounded Tungsten Graphics, Inc. with Keith Whitwell, Jens Owen, David Dawes and Frank LaMonica. Tungsten Graphics was acquired by VMware in December 2008.
November 2002: Mesa 5.0 is released. It implements the OpenGL 1.4 specification.
January 2003: Mesa 6.0 is released. It implements the OpenGL 1.5 specification as well as the GL_ARB_vertex_program and GL_ARB_fragment_program extensions.
June 2007: Mesa 7.0 is released, implementing the OpenGL 2.1 specification and OpenGL Shading Language.
2008: Keith Whitwell and other Tungsten Graphics employees develop Gallium - a new GPU abstraction layer. The latest Mesa drivers are based on Gallium and other APIs such as OpenVG are implemented on top of Gallium.
February 2012: Mesa 8.0 is released, implementing the OpenGL 3.0 specification and version 1.30 of the OpenGL Shading Language.
July 2016: Mesa 12.0 is released, including OpenGL 4.3 support and initial support for Vulkan for Intel GPUs. Plus, there’s another Gallium software driver (“swr”) based on LLVM and developed by Intel.
Ongoing: Mesa is the OpenGL implementation for devices designed by Intel, AMD, NVIDIA, Qualcomm, Broadcom, Vivante, plus the VMware and VirGL virtual GPUs. There’s also several software-based renderers: swrast (the legacy Mesa rasterizer), softpipe (a Gallium reference driver), llvmpipe (LLVM/JIT-based high-speed rasterizer) and swr (another LLVM-based driver).
Work continues on the drivers and core Mesa to implement newer versions of the OpenGL, OpenGL ES and Vulkan specifications.