Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

Native Client: Open ActiveX?

Category: Google

Google has released a cool research project called Native Client, a new browser plugin (how many plugins now? gears, toolbar, lively [for awhile], earth, …) that allows you to compile with a special GCC compiler down to x86 that can run in the browser. IE is missing so far, but remember this is a research preview (not sure how 64 bit comes in here etc).

Joel Webber had an interesting comment:

“We ported an internal implementation of H.264 video decoding […] Performance of the original and NaCl versions were comparable and limited by video frame-rate”. Think about this for a second — it makes it entirely feasible to download untrusted software video codecs (among other things) to the browser. I don’t care how fast you make Javascript; I’m pretty sure it will never be able to do this.

Others are talking about a marketplace for addons. It seems like the first demos are always the porting of games. We saw the same thing with Alchemy which allows C/C++ to run in the Flash VM.

With JavaScript speeding up, and our abstractions getting better and better, I don’t see people writing entire Web applications in C, however this is a new extension mechanism that has been added to the toolbox. If you need to integrate with legacy code, or need access in a way you couldn’t get done before, this could be for you.

Maybe it will be a good bridge technology that we can use, at least before we get richer and richer APIs into the browser itself (e.g. implement some of HTML 5 and new APIs using this until browser support).

What do you think?

Posted by Dion Almaer at 12:10 am

3.4 rating from 23 votes


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I though this sounded familiar so I googled on it. Seems I was right: I once read about a browser plugin that interpreted C++. The website is currently unavailable: http://ivm.sourceforge.net/. But the last release (of 2001) is still downloadable from SourceForge.net (http://sourceforge.net/projects/ivm).

Comment by IvoLimmen — December 9, 2008

I love this.
Waiting for MAME in the browser.

Comment by Nosredna — December 9, 2008

So we had the incorrect Gears vs BrowserPlus debate, where essentially it says, ‘Gears is built for the back-end’ and BP ‘has amazing potential for the front-end’.
So, as mentioned in the Native Client post, there’s talk about an in-browser image editor, which is something that BP does, amongst other FE stuff.
So can we now correctly say that NC is a BrowserPlus competitor? And if so, what are the ramifications?

Comment by DarrenS — December 9, 2008

As already postet to the original Google blog post:
x86 native code is a bad idea, because it won’t run on ARM based mobile devices, which become more and more popular (iPhone,…). Adobe ports Flash 10 to ARM!

But, what come to my mind instantly: Webkit as a Google Native code Plugin for IE6,IE7,IE8. (One should be able to create something like this with ActiveX, too, but no one did so far…)

Comment by AndiSkater — December 9, 2008

Oh yes we like this one

Comment by RawChocolate — July 30, 2009

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