Google, Microsoft, Mozilla Want A Faster Web

Google wants to keep you from leaving the Web by delivering a faster experience.

Larry Loeb, Blogger, Informationweek

June 22, 2015

3 Min Read
<p align="left">(Image: nadla/iStockphoto)</p>

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Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla confirmed last week that they are working on a project called WebAssembly. This standards initiative can be found as a W3C project and on Github.

Basically, WebAssembly aims to serve compiled executable binary code instead of interpreted plaintext JavaScript. The group says its tests have shown a 20-fold increase in speed.

It is hoped by these three companies -- which all have a vested interested in making the Web as fast as possible for their own business purposes -- that this will allow the use of the kinds of applications that have historically not run well on the Web, such as rich online games or the emulation of native desktop apps.

Right now Google has the most to gain from this project, since it wants the Web to work as fast as possible to keep ads in front of users. For CIOs and IT pros, this is important because Google has shown how a change in its corporate strategy can ripple across multiple businesses. This happened earlier this year when Google decided to change search results based on how sites render on mobile devices.

As of now, the WebAssembly project supports coding in C/C++.

During this beginning, WebAssembly relies primarily on Mozilla's ASM.js -- a subset of low-level JavaScript commands. WebAssembly will take the C/C++ and compile it into ASM.js code. The logic behind this is that almost every browser will be able to recognize this code.

It is a goal of the project to get WebAssembly code to allocate and access garbage-collected objects like JS, DOM, and Web API. Even before GC support is added to WebAssembly, it is possible to compile a language's VM to WebAssembly, assuming it's written in portable C/C++. The project says that this has already been demonstrated.

Microsoft and Google have tried to improve JavaScript before. TypeScript was developed by Microsoft and is a superset of JavaScript. It incorporates features such as static typing to make it easier for developers to manage and refine complex codebases.

The Google Web Toolkit provides developers with a method to write Java programs and then compile them to JavaScript.

If your eyes haven't glazed over at all these technical details, one question may be nagging at you: Why is Google behind this? Altruism is one thing, but this kind of effort requires major resources from all those involved.

What will faster browser speed do for Google?

It may well be that Google is looking for ways to keep people routinely using the Web. The tech giant makes its money from searches, and from spewing them back to advertisers. If users are finding other ways to access information, such as apps for their smartphones, they can bypass the Web entirely.

[Here's a look at what you missed at Google I/O. ]

This kind of response to that evolving trend is actually pretty bright. Google can't actually force users to be on the Web, but it can remove obstacles to using it. When they do use the Web, Google has a much better chance of actually tracking them.

It's not just desktop browsers Google is after. It wants to get people on the mobile Internet too. The Information reported that Google secretly acquired a startup called Agawi in 2014. It had a method that allowed users to access apps on their smartphones without downloading them first. This would give Google a way to make the apps it likes easily available, perhaps by featuring them in search results of topics.

Google will not take the rise of mobile apps lying down. It seems to be taking the high road, however, by making the path for apps more attractive to users.

About the Author(s)

Larry Loeb

Blogger, Informationweek

Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other things, a consulting editor for BYTE magazine and senior editor for the launch of WebWeek. He has written a book on the Secure Electronic Transaction Internet protocol. His latest book has the commercially obligatory title of Hack Proofing XML. He's been online since uucp "bang" addressing (where the world existed relative to !decvax), serving as editor of the Macintosh Exchange on BIX and the VARBusiness Exchange. His first Mac had 128 KB of memory, which was a big step up from his first 1130, which had 4 KB, as did his first 1401. You can e-mail him at [email protected].

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