Chrome Pushes for a Standards Based Web - a Challenge to Silverlight and Flash [Best of Sept. '08 #1]

This week was all about Chrome, the new fast and minimalistic browser from Google. I now use Chrome as my default browser, not bad for a 0.2 version.

  • There was some discussion this week about which products and technologies are really threatened by Google Chrome. I agree with those who argue that other rich Internet application frameworks (RIAs) are the technologies at greatest risk. These include the proprietary Microsoft Silverlight and Adobe Air (with Flash). The great promise of the Chrome browser is that it pushes for the open technologies JavaScript and HTML. Chrome comes with a fast JavaScript engine, and with improvements in the JavaScript language itself, as envisioned by the recent ECMAScript Harmony agreement, JavaScript could become a real challenge to the programming languages used in Silverlight (C#) and Flash (ActionScript). ActionScript and JavaScript have the same roots in ECMAScript, but ActionsScript requires a proprietary runtime component (Air or Flash player) to run in the browser, whereas support for JavaScript is built-in into most browsers. Silverlight also requires a proprietary runtime component.

    JavaScript can not alone pose a threat to Silverlight or Flash, an enhanced HTML is required, with elements from the emerging HTML 5 standard, such as the canvas element, for drawing to the screen, and the video element, for displaying video. The canvas element is currently supported by WebKit, the HTML rendering component used in Chrome, and by Gecko, the one used in Firefox, but not natively in IE, though there are workarounds. The latest Firefox 3.1 alpha 2 release includes support for the video element.

    Another advantage with Chrome is that it comes included with the browser extension Gears, which is a JavaScript framework that equips the browser with additional capabilities like offline access for supported sites.
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  • Last week I posed a question regarding the relative performance of Chrome's JavaScript engine V8 compared to the latest Firefox engine TraceMonkey. Now John Resig has given a balanced answer, and it turns out that V8 and TraceMonkey are quite comparable. V8 is faster in some tests, in particular those involving recursion, while TraceMonkey is faster in some other tests. For tests including both JavaScript and DOM manipulation, WebKit based browsers like Safari and Chrome are somewhat ahead of TraceMonkey and Firefox 3.0.1. IE is generally lagging behind.
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  • A proof that Chrome is relatively compliant with emerging Web standards is that it performs well on the Acid3 test, with a score of about 78 out of 100.
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  • Finally, Ted Dziuba challenges my comparison of Chrome to an operating system last week, though he probably didn't read my article, instead he mainly goes after a post by Michael Arrington who labels Chrome "a full on desktop operating system that will compete head on with Windows." Though that expression might be somewhat over the top, I enjoy the vision in the post that eventually the need for a stand-alone desktop operating system will disappear, and that basic OS features might as well be integrated into the browser. A possible solution could be based on a stripped-down version of the Linux OS combined with Google Chrome.
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