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Opera shrugs off Google Native Client

Browser native code not a keeper

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Mozilla has no intention of mimicking Google's efforts to run native code inside the browser. And Opera feels much the same the way.

In a recent conversation with The Register, Opera chief standards officer Charles McCathieNevile argued that Google's Native Client plug-in — a means of running native code inside the company's Chrome browser — isn't viable as a long-term browser technology. It's worth experimenting with, he said, but it runs counter to what he sees as the web's mission. JavaScript performance is improving at an impressive clip, he added, and any speed improvements you may get from native code aren't worth the complications it brings.

The idea of the web, he said, is to have a small set of tools that developers can use to build pages and applications that will run across as many machines as possible. If you toss native code into the mix, the toolset becomes so much larger. You lose the inherent simplicity of a web based on a contained set of standards.

His argument echos Mozilla's stance on the matter. "Our idea of the web where you can use these technologies that are scriptable, that interact with the rest of the page, that can be mashed up and linked into and linked out of," Mozilla vice president of products Jay Sullivan told The Reg this summer at a Silicon Valley conference dedicated to net infrastructure. "These native apps are just little black boxes in a webpage. That's not something we're pursuing. We really believe in HTML, and this is where we want to focus."

At the same conference, Mozilla open source evangelist Chris Blizzard showed the gathered net-heads a Firefox JavaScript demo meant to mimic a test that Google uses to show off Native Client, and he said that even with the current version of Firefox, Mozilla comes within 50 per cent of the performance of native code.

With this web video, Google shows off a Native Client version of a web-based photo editor that lets you apply filters to images in real time. Blizzard ported the same app to JavaScript, boasting performance of about seven frames a second versus Google's 15 frames a second.

"We've started to realize we can do things that would normally be done in native code," Blizzard said. "But we can do them in JavaScript."

Opera's McCathieNevile told us that rather than explore native code in the browser, Opera's aim is to push through standards that give the browser access to system resources, including cameras and other hardware. ®

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