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Google hints at native code in Chrome Web Store

Lego Star Wars goes Native Client

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Google I/O Google has indicated it will offer native code browser applications from the Chrome web apps store that's due to launch later this year.

The Chrome Web Store is designed for use with Google's Chrome browser and the company's upcoming Chrome OS, and it would appear that the store will make its debut when the OS hits netbooks in the fall. Chrome OS will include Native Client, the Google add-on that verifies and executes "untrusted" native code inside the Chrome browser, and in the past, Google has said that Native Client will be an "important part" of the browser-based operating system.

Last week, when Google vice president of product management Sunder Pichai unveiled a working prototype of the upcoming Chrome Web Store, he showed it offering up the popular online game Lego Star Wars. "We were wondering what game to show this audience," Pichai told several thousand developers. "We figured that as long as it had 3D, Legos, and Star Wars, it would work well."

Pichai launched the game's existing incarnation, which uses the browser plug-in from game development house Unity Technologies, but he added that Unity now has a working demo of the game running inside Native Client. "Most game engines are written in native code, and it is going to be very hard to rewrite these in JavaScript," Pichai said. "But now, you can use something like Native Client to run them directly in the browser."

During a separate conference session, Google's Ian Lewis let on that Mountain View is behind Unity's port to Native Client. Lewis said his team "got the opportunity" to port the game "about five weeks ago". Four developers, he said, needed a mere four weeks porting not only the game and the runtime engine but the monocompiler and runtime. "This really isn't a super difficult thing to do," he said.

Google released a preliminary Native Client SDK earlier this month. Essentially, it lets you beef up a web app with existing libraries written in languages such as C and C++, dovetailing this native code with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. In the past, Google has claimed that Native Client executables run at about 97 per cent of the speed of unmodified native code.

When Google executives met with the press at Google I/O last week, The Reg asked about the company's specific plans for native code applications with Chrome OS, and the company merely said that Native Client would be included with the OS, just as it's included today with the Chrome browser.

Chrome OS is essentially the Chrome browser running on a Goobuntu flavor of Linux, and apps will run inside the browser. Though JavaScript speeds have improved in recent years, Chrome OS is still at disadvantage when it comes to running higher-end applications, and clearly, Native Client is an effort to solve this problem.

If Google is now working to port third-party applications to Native Client, we can only assume — as we've assumed in the past — that the company is working to port its own applications. We wouldn't be surprised to see native code versions of the company's online office apps when Chrome OS makes its debut. ®

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