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Original author: 
Peter Bright

Aurich Lawson (with apologies to Bill Watterson)

Google announced today that it is forking the WebKit rendering engine on which its Chrome browser is based. The company is naming its new engine "Blink."

The WebKit project was started by Apple in 2001, itself a fork of a rendering engine called KHTML. The project includes a core rendering engine for handling HTML and CSS (WebCore), a JavaScript engine (JavaScriptCore), and a high-level API for embedding it into browsers (WebKit).

Though known widely as "WebKit," Google Chrome has used only WebCore since its launch in late 2008. Apple's Safari originally used the WebKit wrapper and now uses its successor, WebKit2. Many other browsers use varying amounts of the WebKit project, including the Symbian S60 browser, the BlackBerry browser, the webOS browser, and the Android browser.

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An anonymous reader writes "Last night, Google held its Pwnium 2 competition at Hack in the Box 2012, offering up a total of $2 million for security holes found in Chrome. Only one was discovered; a young hacker who goes by the alias 'Pinkie Pie' netted the highest reward level: a $60,000 cash prize and a free Chromebook (the second time he pulled it off). Google today patched the flaw and announced a new version of Chrome for Windows, Mac, and Linux."

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It starts as just another toy to play around with in a few minutes of distraction in your Web browser – as if the Web were short on distraction. But then, something amazing can happen. Like a musical Turing Test, you start to get a feeling for what’s happening on the other side. Someone’s stream of colored dots starts to jam with your stream of colored dots. You get a little rhythm, a little interplay going. And instead of being a barrier, the fact that you’re looking at simple animations and made-up names and playing a pretty little tune with complete strangers starts to feel oddly special. The absence of normal interpersonal cues makes you focus on communicating with someone, completely anonymously, using music alone.

Dinah Moe’s “Plink” is the latest glimpse of what Web browser music might be, and why it might be different than (and a compliment to) other music creation technology. You can now create private rooms to blow off steam with a faraway friend, or find new players online. It’s all powered with the Web Audio API, the browser-native, JavaScript-based tools championed by Mozilla. That means you’ll need a recent Chrome or Firefox (Chrome only at the moment; this is a Chrome Experiment), and mobile browsers won’t be able to keep up. But still, give it a try – I think you may be pleasantly surprised. (Actually, do it right now, as you’ll probably be doing it with other CDM readers. I expect greater things!)

Thanks to Robin Hunicke, who worked with multiplayer design and play at That Game Company’s Journey on PS3 and now on the browser MMO Glitch. I think her friends were more musical than most, because the place came alive after she linked from Facebook.

The browser is becoming a laboratory, a place to quickly try out ideas for music interaction, and for the code and structure that describe music in a language all their own. As in Plink, it can also benefit from being defined by the network and collaboration.

Dinah Moe’s experiments go in other directions, as well. In Tonecraft, inspired by the 3D construction metaphor of Minecraft, three-dimensional blocks become an alternative sequencer.

There are many reasons not to use Web tools. The Web Audio API still isn’t universal, and native options (like Google’s Native Client) have their own compatibility issues, stability concerns, and – because of security – they don’t do all the things a desktop application will. Desktop music tools are still more numerous, more powerful, and easier to use, so if you’re a reader out there finishing a thesis project, you might look elsewhere. (Actually, you’re probably in trouble, anyway, by any nation’s academic calendar, given it’s the First of May, but I digress.)

But think instead of this as another canvas, and the essential building blocks of interface design, code, and networking as shared across browsers and desktop apps. Somehow, in the light of the Internet, its new connectedness, and its new, more lightweight, more portable code and design options, software is changing. That transformation could happen everywhere.

If you need something to help you meditate on that and wait for a revelation to occur to you, I highly recommend watching a soothing stream of dots and some pleasing music as you jam with your mouse.

Of course, in the end, like a digital mirror, it might inspire you to go out to the park with a couple of glockenspiels and jam the old-fashioned way. But maybe that’s another reason to make software.

(Here’s a video, in case you’re not near a browser that supports the app!)

More, plus reflections on adaptive music:


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Sundar Pichai

In advance of the release of Google Drive, I sat down yesterday with Google SVP of Chrome and Apps Sundar Pichai and Google Drive product head Scott Johnston. I asked them to elaborate on how Google Drive emerged from within Google, how the product compares to the competition, and where they see it evolving.

What’s ironic is that Pichai was the guy who helped kill a previous product called Google Drive, or GDrive, as detailed in Steven Levy’s “In the Plex”:

Google was about to launch a project it had been developing for more than a year, a free cloud-based storage service called GDrive. But Sundar had concluded that it was an artifact of the style of computing that Google was about to usher out the door. He went to Bradley Horowitz, the executive in charge of the project, and said, “I don’t think we need GDrive anymore.” Horowitz asked why not. “Files are so 1990,” said Pichai. “I don’t think we need files anymore.”

Pichai is still not a fan of files — in fact, his criticism of Dropbox and others is that they’re all about file management –  but he’s come around on “having data available in context.” Here’s an edited transcript of our chat from yesterday:

Liz Gannes: With Google Drive, you’re straddling distinctions between personal and organizational use, and personal storage versus sharing. As a user of Google Docs, Dropbox and others, I often get confused across that juncture about who can see things. How do you design for that?

Sundar Pichai: We strongly believe in the consumerization of the enterprise, and that’s the pillar of all our Google Apps strategy. At work and at home, we try to bring the same set of products. There’s some work in bridging the shift, but examples like the iPad bridge it pretty well. We have good controls in place — an admin can control when you’re using Drive within a company — but it’s an area we can do a lot more in.

Who can see what’s in my Google Drive folder?

Scott Johnston: This is a big shift, in that, really, the Google Drive folder is yours. Only things go in there that you create or that you move there explicitly. There’s a new “shared with me” view, and then you can move them into your Drive if you want. So it’s really this space that you control.

Do you see people using their Google Drive as their backup for everything?

Pichai: It’s a good question. I’m probably not the best representative use case, but the first time I got my access, I put my family pictures there, for safety and peace of mind. I don’t think that problem is well-solved today, so having a very safe, secure place to store, which is cost-affordable, I think is a good opportunity. We also really want people to have data anytime, anywhere.

So — yes?

Pichai: Yes, it’s a long way of saying yes.

What’s the team that created this project? I know Google Drive had been “killed” internally before, but what about this group?

Scott Johnston

Johnston: I came onboard Google in 2006 when we were acquired at JotSpot, and joined the Docs team. On that team, as we got better and better at collaboration on different file types, we started seeing them more and more in our everyday life; for planning a birthday party or, internally, our designers were constantly sharing mocks. And it was this idea of getting out of the way of the user so they don’t have to think about where their stuff is, and they can just do what they’re trying to do. It was a natural evolution of Docs. This is just more touchpoints to access your data.

Is there continuity with previous Google Drive products?

Pichai: What Scott’s talking about, Google Drive as an evolution of Docs, is one thing. Early on, we had a project called Google Drive that was completely different.

What was different?

Pichai: There was a very traditional file system approach, a long time ago, having nothing to do with Google Docs. It was pre-mobile, pre-tablet, with deep integration into My Documents and Windows, et cetera. So it was very different.

Why is this a good product now?

Pichai: Today, when I look at different solutions out there, those are still in the old metaphor of “here are files that you want, manage them.” This is about you living your life online — planning a wedding, buying a house — and having your data available in that context. I think it’s a big pivot, and that’s what excites me and makes it a good product. It’s in the natural flow.

I wouldn’t underestimate the fact that you can use it not just with Google but with third-party applications over time will be a big differentiator. And third is, deep search is very powerful. There is a lot of deep computer science in there, the fact that you can comment on any file type, that there’s full-text indexing with optical character recognition, all that happens magically with our infrastructure.

Johnston: There’s also being able to offer up to 16 terabytes of storage per user.

It’s kind of unusual for you to ask consumers to pay for Google products, right?

Pichai: Today, people are paying for Gmail and Picasa storage. For power users, it is popular. We’ve kind of made it very hard for you to do, but [Google Drive] is very easy. When you do upgrade here, your Gmail automatically goes up to 25 gigs. Over time, given how much Google Apps are the center of many users’ life, and you want to store safely and securely, I think it’s a good model and it’s a pretty good deal.

I know you’ve been working on Google Drive, in various iterations, for a long time. Why are you releasing it now, especially if some key parts are not done?

Pichai: We wanted all of this to be done — iOS, Gmail, etc. We picked a schedule and, like, 18 things made the train, and two got left out, but they will get added in after. The fact that Gmail got delayed and G+ made it, I wouldn’t have known a month ago.

Is this like the Chrome browser, where you guys promised a Mac version was coming soon, and then it took a couple years?

Pichai: Sorry about that. We dramatically underestimated what it would take to do Chrome on the Mac. IOS is a very different story. It works today. IOS is 98 percent done, and it will be here soon.

No matter what you say or launch, the takeaway is going to be, “Google launches Dropbox competitor.” What do you make of the competitive landscape?

Pichai: I think if we wanted to do it, we would have approached it very differently. We’ve gone to great lengths to built it around an online application experience. We want this to be about creating and collaborating — and your data is there for you. I think others have taken a file/data approach, and saying you have [access to] that everywhere. It’s nuanced, but I think it’s very different.

And for an active Google user, the integration we provide is very valuable. [As for Dropbox,]  I think the work they’ve done is great. This is a secular shift in terms of how people are living in the cloud, and I think it’s good to have innovation in the space.

Are we going to see TV ads for this?

Pichai: Not that I know of.

Johnston: The Super Bowl’s a long time from now.

Pichai: If the Niners make it.

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To get started with Native Client:

  1. Read the Technical Overview to understand how a
    Native Client application is structured and to get a feel for what you need to do to port existing code.
  2. Play with some of the applications in the Application Gallery
    to see what others have done so far.
  3. Download the Native Client SDK.
  4. Go through the Getting Started Tutorial.
    The tutorial walks you through how to get Native Client set up for the first time and check for browser version compatibility.
  5. Take a look through some of the applications in the pepper_18/examples/ directory in the SDK.
    You can run the applications from the SDK Examples and Demos page.
  6. Browse through the Developer's Guide and the Pepper API
    reference documentation.
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Skuto writes "After offering a total prize fund of up to $1M for a successful Chrome hack, it seems Google got what it wanted (or not!). No more than 5 minutes into the Pwn2Own cracking contest team Vupen exploited 2 Chrome bugs to demonstrate a total break of Google's browser. They will win at least 60k USD out of Google's prize fund, as well as taking a strong option on winning the overall Pwn2Own prize. It also illustrates that Chrome's much lauded sandboxing is not a silver bullet for browser security."

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snydeq writes "The Chrome dev team is working toward a vision of Web apps that offers a clean break from traditional websites, writes Fatal Exception's Neil McAllister, in response to Google's new Field Guide for Web Applications. 'When you add it up, it starts to look as though, for all the noise Google makes about Web standards, Chrome is moving further and further apart from competing browsers, just by virtue of its technological advantages. In that sense, maybe Chrome isn't just a Web browser; maybe Chrome itself is the platform — or is becoming one.'"

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Google has released Chrome 14 to the Chrome beta testing channel, which includes, among other new features, the initial beta release of Google’s "Native Client" technology, first announced in 2010.

If you’d like to try out Chrome 14 beta, head on over to the beta downloads page.

Chrome 14 has several improvements including the much better OS X Lion integration we mentioned previously, along with print preview support for Mac OS X users. But possibly the biggest news is that Google’s Native Client technology is getting closer to prime time.

Native Client is a set of open source tools that allow Chrome to run compiled C and C++ code the same way the browser currently runs JavaScript or other common web programming languages. Native Code offers both a security sandbox and a set of interfaces that provide C and C++ bindings to the capabilities of HTML5. That means web application developers will be able to tap into desktop libraries to create faster, more powerful web apps.

For example, imagine you wanted to create a video editing web app along the lines of Final Cut Pro. You could building the user interface with HTML, CSS and JavaScript, but the actual processing of video would likely be very slow if you handed off the job to the server. You could try to use JavaScript in the browser, but again speed would be an issue. Native Client would allow you to do the video processing in the browser, but running native code. Then all you need to do is push the final changes up to the server, which makes for a much snappier web app.

How much faster Native Client will be is open to debate. Certainly JavaScript performance has improved since Google first announced Native Client in June 2010. The past year has seen huge JavaScript speed improvements in nearly all the major web browsers, which means Native Client feels less necessary than it might have when Google first began working on it. Of course there are still plenty of web apps, especially computationally intensive apps like non linear video editors, that could benefit from Native Client.

The problem for web app developers is that thus far Native Client is only available in Chrome. Google has created an API, dubbed Pepper (Native Client is abbreviated NaCl, which is also shorthand for table salt, get it?) which allows the browser to talk to Native Client and means that any web browser could, in theory, implement it. Thus far, however, none have.

For now, if you want to test out some Google’s sample code, grab the latest Chrome beta and head on over to the Native Client demo page. In my testing Native Client was indeed quite speedy, but running it for any length of time sent my laptop’s fan into overdrive.

Conway's Game of Life Running in Native Client

While Native Client is still a beta release, if it catches on with developers and other browsers embraced it, Native Client could open the doors for a whole new generation of faster, more powerful web apps.

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Google has announced a new set of APIs for its Chrome web browser, which are designed to connect applications and sites across the web. Web Intents, as Google is calling its new meta-website API, allows websites to pass data between each other — for example, to edit a photograph or share a URL with friends.

Developers at Mozilla have been working on a similar framework for Firefox, and now Google says it will work with Mozilla to develop a single API that works in both web browsers.

The Web Intents API was originally conceived by Paul Kinlan last year. Kinlan, who is a Chrome Developer Advocate at Google, borrowed the idea from the Android platform, which uses Android Intents to pass data between Android Apps.

So just what are Web Intents? Well, the easiest way to understand them is by example. Take the sometimes overwhelming proliferation of buttons on web pages that allow you to do something with the current page, whether it’s Like, Tweet, +1, Read Later, Add to Instapaper and so on. Rather than adding a dozen little badges to your site, Web Intents creates a bridge that connects your site to any website your visitor wants to use. Web Intents define an API for your site to use and another API for the receiving site to use. Plug them together and transferring data becomes a quick and easy process, both for users and developers.

That’s a huge step up from the situation today. Perhaps the biggest win is that Web Intents put your visitors in control — they can select which actions they’d like to perform and which external sites they’d like to handle those actions. Some might share your page on Facebook, others on Twitter, still others might save it to their Instapaper account and so on, all from the same three lines of code you added to your site.

That’s not, however, all that Web Intents can do. The broader goal of Web Intents is to provide a generic means of communication between websites for tasks as varied as editing photos, listening to music or shortening URLs.

The second half of the video below demonstrates Mozilla’s take on how Web Intents ("Web Activities" in Mozilla’s parlance) might work.

For some sample code and working examples, head over to the new site and check out the examples (the image example is particularly good at showing off the potential power of Web Intents).

For some more background on Web Intents, check out Paul Kinlan’s blog, particularly his overview post on the brief history of Web Intents. Tantek Çelik, the creator of microformats, also has a nice post on what he calls Web Actions (same thing, better name). Çelik breaks down the idea behind Web Intents and how they benefit not just developers, but users as well.

As Çelik writes, "web actions have the potential to change our very notions of what a web application is from a single site to loosely coupled interactions across multiple, distributed sites…. In that regard, web actions have the potential to become a building block for distributed web applications."

Image: Aidan Jones/CC/Flickr

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Nobody at Webmonkey expected to wake up and experience an internet game change today, but with Google’s semi-accidental launch of the Chrome browser Sunday, that’s exactly what we got. We barely had enough time to clean up the coffee spittle on our monitors.

It started with a very candid and thoughtful comic. It used drawn characters of Chrome designers to eloquently describe the browser’s inner workings. If it wasn’t in comic form, it would read like a computer science lecture, and you’d be asleep in the time it takes to say “garbage collection.” However, in comic form, the technical document gently exposes you us to just what we’re getting into.

So what are we getting into with Chrome? Perhaps web 3.0.

The way it manages tabs, the way it treats errors, its blinding speed — when Firefox 3 was released, it made Firefox 2 seems slow. Chrome does the same thing to Firefox 3. There’s no doubt this is a game changer in the world of web development. Even the surprise announcement lent a hand to making this as big of news as web news can get.

It may sound hyperbolic, but there is some serious machinery going on under the hood. Let’s break it down.

Chrome is essentially four open source projects bundled together: Chrome is the internet operating system, V8 the JavaScript engine, Gears for web developers and Webkit used for rendering HTML.

  1. Chrome — This is the first browser that incorporates the technology used in your desktop. Chrome basically acts like an operating system by treating tabs like applications. Each tab has its own protected memory, permissions and runs as its own process. If one misbehaves, you can pull up the Chrome task manager, see the processor and memory usage of the misbehaving site and close it on the spot.

    A very simple way to stress how revolutionary this is is to consider the fact that if you have a multi-core processor (as many desktop and laptops have these days), two tabs can render HTML and JavaScript independently on each processor, just as if you were running multiple desktop applications.

    This is similar to what Windows NT, and later XP, did with its protected memory in 2001. Protected memory was a popular selling point because it stabilized applications and allowed for better multi-threading. The same benefits apply to the multiple tabs of Chrome.

  2. V8 — Like Pinocchio became a real boy, JavaScript becomes a real programming language. Before, JavaScript was just a lightweight scripting solution that provided some cool effects. However, the way browsers were designed to handle it was for very moderate usage, like menus and simple interactive elements. AJAX web applications pushed the boundaries of what JavaScript was meant for. Google saw the potential in JavaScript, and grew impatient waiting for browsers to be able to handle what it was capable of. V8 puts away any doubt JavaScript can handle what you can give it. It even questions the need for add-ons like Adobe Flash or Microsoft’s Silverlight to enable rich web applications.

    Instead of virtually interpreting JavaScript, V8 compiles the code and managed to build a class/object relationship in the process, just like a grown up programming language. It runs blazingly fast, especially with those AJAX-y web applications you leave running in your browser all day.

    It has even included benchmarks to prove it.

  3. Gears — Because Gears has been around for over a year, there isn’t much to Gears that hasn’t already been said. Gears adapts some of the cooler functions of HTML 5.0 standards and adds an offline element to web surfing. It acts as the web developer friendly section of the Chrome package, enabling web developers to design faster and more powerful web applications. It is only fitting the technology is built into the browser.
  4. Webkit — Webkit is the only non-Google open source project included in the browser package. It stems from an Linux browser named Konqueror and, most recently, used for Apple’s Safari browser. Developers claimed the memory management and speed were among its top sellers. They also claimed the last thing web developers need is another rendering engine.

    They might be right. However, it is a bit of a slap in the face to Mozilla’s Gecko rendering engine. Given the financial and collaborative relationship Google has had with Mozilla in the past, it must be a hard pill to swallow in Firefox-land.

For its heavily asynchronous web applications to run better on a browser, Google acknowledged the browser needed to be redesigned from the ground up. It could’ve asked Mozilla to comply, and most likely it would have been rejected by Mozilla. Instead, it did the heavy lifting itself.

Much of the industry is now scrambling to try and figure out the Microsoftian threat Google poses. On the surface, Google is trying to redefine your window to the internet. When you consider how it deals with memory and how it protects your processes, it is, for all intents and purposes, the first successful combination of browser and operating system.

That said, how much of a threat can Google be if I (or you, or your neighbor) can jump in and write code for it? Releasing it under the BSD license, and even encouraging Internet Explorer and Firefox to steal code directly from the source, proves that Google wants nothing other than the capability to make their online properties more powerful. Google co-founder Larry Page sees Chrome as a way to increase competition and empower innovation in the long run.

“If there was only one choice [of browser], there wouldn’t be a lot of innovation out there,” Page proclaimed at a Chrome presentation Tuesday. “The web is really our connection to you, so it’s really important to us”

Sergey Brin, Google’s other co-founder, agrees: “Our business does well if there is a lot of healthy web usage … Our business does well if [people] are using the web and the internet a lot. Any usage of the internet through Chrome is a business win for us.”

The Chrome release and the way it treats web pages as applications is so innovative, it might have jumped years ahead of iterative advances from current browser offerings. It changes the game.

To the competition’s advantage, users may be slow to flock to Chrome. However, once they take it for a test drive, the speed of AJAX applications alone will set the bar high. It puts some heavy pressure on the browser competition to catch-up overnight.

Apparently, Mozilla developers were given an early peak at Chrome prior to the launch. How did it go? I’m sure the thoughts of threats swimmed in the minds of Firefox developers who have been working very hard on advancing browser technology for the last five years. Luckily, when you put any group of engineers together, the one common bond is on the coolness of technology. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Firefox drawing board looks a little different today.

In fact, it wouldn’t be a surprise if it didn’t start incorporating the groundbreaking work done on the Chrome and V8 source — something Chrome developers want badly. They’re eager for this technology to hit the street, and they don’t care too much how it gets there.

What Internet Explorer will do with this information is anyone’s guess. Their closed source browser sports some definite “me too” functions and is advancing in speed, but Microsoft has real potential to incorporate the Chrome multi-processing technology in its Windows operating system. More likely, Microsoft will take the ideas and develop its own counter attack, however slowly it may take.

There is one fact with literally no doubt — the web has become a whole lot faster, more powerful and mind-numbingly fast overnight.

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