Google Chrome, HTML5, and the new Web platform

The Chrome dev team is working toward a vision of Web apps that offers a clean break from traditional websites

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A new kind of browser for a new kind of app
That's a tall order. It's a set of capabilities beyond what we expect of the traditional Web browser -- in fact, a few years ago no browser could have supported them all. But because of Chrome's rapid release schedule and its revolutionary silent update mechanism, Google has been able to roll out not just security updates but also new features at a remarkable rate.

Google is as gung-ho about HTML5 as anyone, and Chrome's HTML engine regularly scores highest in standards support tests. Chrome has also led the pack in JavaScript performance, and Google is moving aggressively to implement the features the next version of the JavaScript language, code-named Harmony.

But recent versions of Chrome have also incorporated other, decidedly nonstandard technologies. One example is Native Client (NaCl), which allows Web apps to run compiled object code at near native speed. Another is Dart, a programming language designed to replace JavaScript; experimental Chrome builds now include a Dart virtual machine. Then there's Chrome OS itself.

It should be no surprise that competing browser makers have been reluctant to implement Google's less orthodox inventions. But even when they've tried to emulate Chrome, they've struggled. When Mozilla switched to a rapid release schedule for Firefox, it met resistance and was eventually forced to provide an alternative for enterprise users. And if users have been skeptical about Chrome OS, Mozilla's Boot to Gecko project seems even less fully baked.

When you add it up, it starts to look as though, for all the noise Google makes about Web standards, Chrome is moving further and further apart from competing browsers, just by virtue of its technological advantages. In that sense, maybe Chrome isn't just a Web browser; maybe Chrome itself is the platform -- or is becoming one.

Chrome: Threat or menace -- or neither?
If Google is crafting a new kind of platform for the Web, is there anything wrong with that? If you believe the search giant already has too much influence over Web standards through its browser and its participation in the various standards bodies, then maybe so.

On the other hand, Google's primary source of revenue isn't Web browsers, Web standards, or the accompanying developer tools. It's advertising. Google doesn't need to dominate W3C standards to maintain its core market. It just needs a healthy, thriving Web -- and maybe, just maybe, accelerating the Web's evolution away from the classic client/server model toward something that more closely resembles a desktop application development platform is a way to ensure that the Web remains vibrant.

Check out the "Field Guide to Web Applications" and let me know what you think. How will Web designers react to the idea that they should discard traditional Web UI paradigms? How will J2EE developers react to the suggestion that Web apps should be primarily client-based? How will browser makers react to the need to support nontraditional sensors and input devices? Even if Chrome is not yet a development platform in its own right, the Chrome dev team has certainly built a compelling platform for debate.

This article, "Google Chrome, HTML5, and the new Web platform," originally appeared at Read more of Neil McAllister's Fatal Exception blog and follow the latest news in programming at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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