Google Native Client grows out of research phase

Satisfied that its security underpinnings are solid, Google has promoted its open-source Native Client technology to accelerate web applications out of its research phase and is taking steps to build it into the Chrome web browser.
"Based on our experience to date, we believe that the basic architecture of our system is sound and the implementation is supportable. So now we are undertaking a number of tasks to transition Native Client from a research technology to a development platform," said Brad Chen, Google's Native Client engineering manager, in a mailing list announcement on Wednesday.

Native Client, called NaCl for short, is a mechanism to run software downloaded over the web directly on x86 processors such as Intel's Core line. The key motivation is to attain the speed of regular "native" software installed on a computer rather than the much slower JavaScript environment that sophisticated websites use today. It's one part of Google's broad effort to evolve the web from a collection of relatively static sites into foundation for more powerful applications.

Executing native code from the web is easy -- until you start trying to worry about security risks. To this end, Native Client examines software before it runs to block software that takes a variety of prohibited actions, an idea called static analysis, and it runs the software in a protected sandbox.

"We recognised the underlying technology to be ambitious and risky, and felt strongly that a generous measure of public scrutiny was appropriate before we committed to any definite plans," Chen said. Satisfied that Native Client passed muster, Google will remove various security constraints such as the inability to execute Native Client software downloaded from the open internet, he said.

Native Client was first introduced in December as a browser plug-in, but Google doesn't like that approach.

"We recognise that there is well-justified resistance to installing browser plug-ins. For this reason we have a strong preference for delivering Native Client pre-installed or built into the browser, and we'll be focusing on that as our main strategy for delivering Native Client to users," Chen said.

And now we see one reason why Google is interested in having a browser of its own available: "Careful readers may have already noticed evidence of integration into Chromium in the Native Client source," Chen said, referring to the open-source project that underlies the Chrome browser.

Google touted Native Client at its Google I/O conference in May, showing off a web-based photo editor as an example of the processing power the technology offers. Google is also trying to pair Native Client with another company project, O3D, which lets browsers take advantage of hardware to accelerate 3D graphics.

BY Stephen Shankland, CNET

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