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Chrome starts learning which way is up

Work has begun to let Chrome tell Web-based apps about a device's orientation so games, for example, can tell how the device is being tilted.

Google has begun work on a new item on a long list of technologies designed to make applications running on the Web more competitive with those that run natively on a machine's operating system: an interface to know which way is up.

The orientation interface plumbing is being built into the WebKit browser project that underlies Google's Chrome and Apple's Safari, according to a Google's Chrome issue tracker.

The technology would let the browser provide an application with hardware-supplied information about which way a computing device is being held, information that's particularly useful for mobile games that rely on that for a user interface. For example, tilting a device can turn it into a steering wheel or a tabletop on which a marble rolls.

Work to add orientation support to Firefox began in 2009, and Mozilla expects it to be built into Firefox 3.6

The moves reflect a major trend under way: browsers are becoming, in effect, operating systems. Many native interfaces are being reproduced in browsers, and there's broad work under way to improve browser processing and graphics abilities as well. One big difference, though: browser-based apps usually require a network connection.

Google is placing a major bet on this cloud-computing direction. Not only does it have a broad range of Web-based tools such as Google Apps, but it's also building its Chrome OS browser-based operating system whose applications run exclusively in the browser.

Browsers also are becoming more central to mobile phones and other devices such as Apple's iPad and a host of expected competing tablets.