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8/21/2012
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Google Adds Octane To Measure Browser Speed

Web browsers keep evolving, so browser speed tests must follow. Google's latest breaks with tradition of "artificial" tests by using unaltered Web apps and libraries.

Google I/O: 10 Awesome Visions
Google I/O: 10 Awesome Visions
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Google on Tuesday introduced a new way to assess the speed of one's Web browser, a JavaScript benchmark test suite called Octane.

Google has long been concerned about the speed of Web applications because slow online interactions drive users away. The company talks about speed constantly and regularly introduces software such as its Page Speed browser extension, which helps publishers assess Web page performance.

Many of Google's Web applications rely on JavaScript, so naturally the company wants to make sure that its Chrome Web browser, as well as other Web browsers, run JavaScript code as fast as possible.

"Most of the existing JavaScript benchmarks run artificial tests that were created on an ad-hoc basis to stress a specific JavaScript feature," explains Google product manager Stefano Cazzulani in a blog post. "Octane breaks with this tradition and extends the former V8 Benchmark Suite with five new benchmarks created from full, unaltered [unless necessary], well-known Web applications and libraries."

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We've been here before. In May 2011, Google updated its V8 benchmark suite, noting that although other JavaScript benchmark tests existed, they didn't "reflect Chrome's true performance." Code evolves and code tests need to evolve too, Google argued.

Ever helpful, Google also posted a modified version of the SunSpider benchmark and the most recent version, at that time, of Mozilla's Kraken benchmark, to eliminate code errors that might have hindered Chrome's test performance.

Mozilla released its Kraken benchmark in September 2010 as an improvement on its previous Dromaeo benchmark. Then in June, it released a separate test suite called Eideticker for the Android version of Firefox.

Cazzulani insists that high scores on the Octane benchmarks translate directly into more responsive Web applications.

The new tests focus on performance as its relates to games, due to the fact that games often are very demanding of computational resources. They include: Box2DWeb, a JavaScript port of the Box2D physics engine; Mandreel, a JavaScript port of the Bullet 3D physics engine; PDF.js, a test suite based on Mozilla's PDF reader; GB Emulator, derived from the JavaScript GameBoy Emulator; and CodeLoad, a library loading test.

Asked about Octane, a Mozilla spokesperson said that the company had not had a chance to evaluate Google's latest benchmark suite, but noted that there's value in having a broad set of tests to assess browser performance.

"Different browsers handle and support these new technologies in different ways, making it difficult to point to any one benchmarking tool which can fairly test different browsers across all these use cases," Mozilla's spokesman said. "Most benchmarking tools measure JavaScript speed, which is only 20% to 30% of the code a browser typically handles; the remainder can be associated with other technologies."

At this year's InformationWeek 500 Conference, C-level execs will gather to discuss how they're rewriting the old IT rulebook and accelerating business execution. At the St. Regis Monarch Beach, Dana Point, Calif., Sept. 9-11.

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