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Huge win for web apps: Chrome can now run native code

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Something fell off our plate amid the late craze in tech reporting, especially with Google buying Motorola and HP abandoning PC biz and webOS devices. That doesn’t mean this little nugget is not worthy your attention, quite the contrary. Three years ago, Google mentioned it would eventually enable the so-called native code execution in Chrome. The latest beta of Chrome 14, unleashed a week ago, now supports this functionality, the Google Operating System blog has discovered.

In Layman’s terms, native code execution lets the Chrome browser run snippets of web code specifically optimized for your computer’s processor rather than analyze, interpret and painstakingly turn HTML code line by line into a machine-readable format – that takes a lot of time, slowing down code execution as a result.

Google’s definition simply states the technique lets developers “build web applications that seamlessly execute native compiled code inside the browser”. For our tech-savvy readers, Google outlined some of the benefits of this technique in the announcement blog post three years ago:

Modern PCs can execute billions of instructions per second, but today’s web applications can access only a small fraction of this computational power. If web developers could use all of this power, just imagine the rich, dynamic experiences they could create. At Google we’re always trying to make the web a better platform. That’s why we’re working on Native Client, a technology that aims to give web developers access to the full power of the client’s CPU while maintaining the browser neutrality, OS portability and safety that people expect from web applications.

The stable Chrome 14 release is expected within a month, when native code execution will become standard feature for the 160 million active Chrome users, as of May 11. So, why should you care? Read on…

Great strides have been made in web graphics recently thanks to WebGL, an industry allowing developers to embed OpenGL instructions into HTML code. We’re talking about essentially the same stuff game developers tap for high-quality graphics in modern games. The fact that the vast majority of consumer graphics cards support OpenGL means web browsers can simply take WebGL code injected inside web pages and pass it directly to the graphics card for native execution. While WebGL allows for remarkable efficiency (see this awesome 3D Water simulation in Chrome), it’s only part of the equation. Often times, popular web apps that crunch a lot of numbers or feature complex logic rely on Javascript, a high-level programming language providing gluing parts that power interactivity on the web. With native code execution in place, one could easily imagine just about any type of app inside a browser, with graphics being taken care of courtesy of WebGL and other critical components fed to your processor as native code. In other words, the line between desktop and web apps just got blurrier.

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