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Google tunes up Chrome’s JavaScript engine

Google’s newest test versions of Chrome are equipped with a faster JavaScript engine, an increasingly important browser component for running Web-based programs.

The result is faster-loading pages, more powerful Web applications, and another round in the browser performance competition with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Mozilla’s Firefox, Apple’s Safari, and Opera.

Chrome Canary uses the new Crankshaft version of Google's JavaScript engine. On Mozilla's Kraken test, where shorter bars are better, it wins handily over the current stable version of Chrome. This and other tests are on a Dell Studio XPS 16 with a 1.73GHz Intel Q820 Core i7 processor and 6GB of memory. width="341" height="340"/>

Chrome Canary uses the new Crankshaft version of Google’s JavaScript engine. On Mozilla’s Kraken test, where shorter bars are better, it wins handily over the current stable version of Chrome. This and other tests are on a Dell Studio XPS 16 with a 1.73GHz Intel Q820 Core i7 processor and 6GB of memory.

Stephen Shankland/CNET)

The new JavaScript engine works better on Google's V8 benchmark, too. width="341" height="332"/>

The new JavaScript engine works better on Google’s V8 benchmark, too.

Stephen Shankland/CNET)

On the SunSpider test, now in disfavor in some circles for being obsolete, the two browsers are tied. width="341" height="338"/>

On the SunSpider test, now in disfavor in some circles for being obsolete, the two browsers are tied.

Stephen Shankland/CNET)

Chrome’s browser engine, called V8, is being upgraded to version 3, called Crankshaft. It uses a technique called adaptive compilation that translates JavaScript into native instructions for a processor and then concentrates more energy on improving the parts of the code used most often, Google said.

“Crankshaft uses adaptive compilation to improve both start-up time and peak performance. The idea is to heavily optimize code that is frequently executed and not waste time optimizing code that is not,” Google programmers Kevin Millikin and Florian Schneider said yesterday in a company blog post.

The result: “pages that contain significant amounts of JavaScript code” load on average 12 percent faster, the programmers said. And when it comes to how fast JavaScript programs run once they’re loaded, they said, “this is the biggest performance improvement since we launched Chrome in 2008.”

JavaScript has become such a competitive feature among browsers that they’re using brand names. Up against V8 is Microsoft’s Chakra, debuting in IE9; Apple’s Nitro; Opera’s Carakan; and Mozilla’s JaegerMonkey, debuting in Firefox 4.

JavaScript performance is important, but it’s only one facet of browser quality. Others include support for new features such as WebGL’s 3D graphics; the ability to accelerate display of graphics and text; privacy and security; how fast it can handle the increasingly important CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) technology for formatting; and performance of interacting with a Web page’s DOM–or document object model, the hierarchical description of its elements.

All these areas and more are getting ever more attention. And if it wasn’t clear what’s at stake, look no further than Google’s Chrome OS and Chrome Web Store. The first is a browser-based operating system that runs Web apps only; the second is a distribution mechanism to find and buy those apps.

There are plenty of uncertainties about how well Google will succeed in its ambition to transform the Web into a foundation for applications, not just static Web sites. But there are some things that aren’t so unclear: more and more of people’s work and personal life is being spent doing things within a browser. That trend is enabled by better performance and, at the same time, encourages even more advances.

The programmers specifically pointed to improvements in Gmail loading times, which I’ve found excruciatingly slow in recent months. However, my not-terribly-reliable stopwatch tests showed Crankshaft actually slower with that site: 2.4 seconds to load on an average of five runs loading Gmail on Chrome Canary 10.0.603.3 compared with 2.1 seconds for the newest stable version of Chrome, Chrome 8.0.552.215. Given the variability in the results (less than 2 seconds to more than 3), though, I wouldn’t read too much into that result.

Of course, there are plenty of benchmarks for broader if more more artificial tests of JavaScript performance: Mozilla’s Kraken (version 1.0), Google’s V8 Benchmark (version 6), and WebKit’s SunSpider (version 0.9.1).

Here, Crankshift definitely shows a difference, except on the SunSpider test whose influence has waned as browser makers’ advancements have rendered it out of date. Bear in mind, though, that this was a test just on a single machine, a quad-core Dell Studio XPS 16 with 6GB of memory and that other machines will produce different results.

Browser benchmarks are a thorny issue. It’s always tough to represent the full breadth of computing challenges in a single convenient test, and there’s always the risk that engineers will design products for good benchmark scores even when the approach has little or no bearing on real-world work. Indeed, Firefox leveled benchmark engineering charges at Microsoft with IE9.

Chrome is gaining in popularity, on the verge of 10 percent of browser usage on the Web today for third place after IE and Firefox. It took years and a somewhat subversive effort to convince Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt that the company should release a browser, but it’s clearly a force to be reckoned with on the Net.

Originally posted at Deep Tech

Chrome Web Store a gift for developers, a sea change for users

The Google Chrome Web Store, which went live today, is a big gift to Web developers: it’s a marketplace, like Apple’s iOS App Store and Google’s Android Market, that lets developers put their apps in a place where users and buyers are likely to be looking for them. It also collects money on developers’ behalves.

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Google’s new Web Store. Looks like Apple’s App Store, but the terms are very different.

Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET)

Unlike most of the apps for iOS or Android, developers don’t really have to program a new app for the Google Web Store to get it into the market. Especially in this early stage of the store, many of the “apps” are nothing more than Web sites–just as free as the sites you get to by typing a URL, and in many cases just as unexciting.

But the store does give developers a new avenue to put their best Web work into a well-organized market, and it also goads developers to work on building HTML5 apps for the Web-centric Chrome OS Netbooks, which are expected to arrive in mid-2011. Apps you buy in the Chrome Web Store will be waiting in your account if you should get one of those Netbooks in the future.

While most of the apps currently in the Web Store are nothing more than Web links, some, like the Gilt shopping app and the Sports Illustrated sports photo viewer, feel and run like actual installed apps of the iPad variety. Set Chrome up to run in full-screen mode and you’ll not know the difference.

Google store a nonprofit?
Google Engineering Director Linus Upson told me about a few of the things that set the Chrome Web Store apart from the other big Web stores. First, he says, while the Chrome Store does collect a fee when it sells an app, Google does not aim to make its store a profit center. “We collect only enough to cover our costs,” Upson says. Also, there are several types of payments that Google can process for developers: up-front purchasing of an app, recurring subscription fees, and in-app add-on purchases are all possible. The Store uses Google Checkout to handle billing. Developers can also put Google ads into their apps–that’s where Google will make more of its money.

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The Web Store lets developers charge for apps in a few different ways.

Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET)

Since Chrome apps are really just Web pages, they should be able to work in any contemporary browser. Indeed, some of the apps I tested, including the very slick New York Times app, worked fine in Firefox (Sports Illustrated and Gilt did not). But Chrome enables some functions that won’t work in other browsers. In particular, you can’t buy an app except in Chrome. And you cannot “install” an app, since the Chrome start page on which the store installs its icons doesn’t have a standard programming interface. Upson did say, however, that Mozilla is working on an open standard for installing apps, and in conversation loosely implied that Google would either contribute to this effort or adopt its final spec.

Another big difference from Apple (and Microsoft) Web stores: There’s no pre-approval required to put an app in the store. There are guidelines, and Google may remove apps that violate these guidelines or that the community votes off the island, but basically, anyone can put anything online for at least a short while. This is how Google’s Android Market works, as well.

Where’s my cloud-based hard drive?
While Chrome (the browser and the operating system) is becoming an honest-to-goodness platform for apps, one thing it doesn’t have, that no online vendor has yet sorted out, and that is core to every other mainstream desktop computer operating system, is a file system that developers can tap into. If you “install” a Chrome app, say one of the Aviary graphics-editing apps, and you want to operate on a file stored on another service, there is as yet no standard, accepted place where users or developers can park or transfer files. To get a file from one app to another, the apps have to talk directly, and the user has to approve app-to-app communication (via oAuth or direct login).

I hear the developers of online storage services (perhaps Facebook’s Dropio team; or Dropbox) have been working on a system for this, but as Upson told me, “building a unified anything is hard, and in many cases counterproductive.” Aviary’s Michael Galpert says that, at the moment, setting up app-to-app communication for moving files around works acceptably well, but he is looking forward to a solution that’s more consistent for users.

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Our Cr-48 notebooks arrive this week.


A real threat to the old model
Eric Schmidt said at today’s launch of the Chrome Web Store that technologies have finally evolved to the point where a Web-based framework–and Web-focused hardware for it–is capable enough to be a workable productivity, social, and entertainment platform for the majority of technology users, especially those whose computers run a browser layered on top of an operating system only to run online apps and access Web sites. We’ll be getting Google’s testbed Cr-48 notebooks in our hands this week and will evaluate the hardware and the OS to see if we have, finally, reached the point where we can kiss the old software-on-operating-system model goodbye.

Originally posted at Rafe’s Radar

Mundu Radio brings Shoutcast to Android
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For Android users who like the overall vibe of good, old-fashioned terrestrial radio but would prefer not to cart around a separate device just for the pleasure of listening to ad-riddled FM, there are several solutions in the form of apps. One is Mundu Radio, a free app that packages Shoutcast specifically for the mobile platform.

The Internet radio giant is served by several third-party apps for the Android OS, but Mundu is one of the better-looking options available. Fire it up, and you’re taken to a simple home screen with four main options: listen, discover, favorites, and settings.

It’s easy to search for specific Shoutcast stations or find new ones using the discover feature, which lets you search by artist or genre to match you with a selection that might suit your tastes. There’s also the option to browse by seemingly innumerable genres, subgenres, decades, and styles of music, as well as by the country of origin for the broadcasts.

Of course, if you have specific Shoutcast stations in mind, you can enter those directly as well as save them as favorites. However, the favorites functionality could use some work, as it’s a laborious process to enter broadcasts for bookmarking. Mundu Radio requires that you type in station names and URLs yourself, rather than just find by search or browse and then have a menu option for saving the station.

Sound quality isn’t spectacular either, but that’s really a limitation of Shoutcast, not Mundu. Also, the banner adds are somewhat annoying, though expected given the fact the app is free.

All in all, Mundu Radio for Android is a solid option for users of the OS who are looking for an easy way to enjoy Shoutcast radio on the go. Some of the functionality could use some work, but the overall look of the interface is nice and, again, it’s free, so worth checking out.

Originally posted at Android Atlas