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New Google Web Toolkit reveals Web-app speed

Web performance monitoring gets a boost with Google Web Toolkit 2.0. Some parts of Google have other ideas about high-performance JavaScript, though.

Just as Microsoft advanced the state of the art for programming on Windows, Google is trying to do the same with Web-based software. Its latest move: the release of Google Web Toolkit 2.0.

GWT translates software written in the Java programming language into the JavaScript code that browsers can run natively. The technology is designed to produce fast-executing JavaScript and ease the pains of incompatibilities among different browsers.

Google Web Toolkit, released Tuesday night at a Google Campfire One developer event, fits in with the company's general push to make the Web a more powerful foundation for applications, not just static Web sites. The financial reasoning the company offers boils down to this: more use of the Web means more searching on Google and more search advertising revenue.

GWT is an open-source tool. Among the newer Web sites Google built with it are Wave, Orkut, and the AdWords interface.

"We've been working with those teams in applied R&D in the last year to evolve to meet their needs," said GWT product manager Andrew Bowers. Specifically, he mentioned three new features in the refurbished GWT:

• Speed Tracer, a Chrome browser extension that graphs a Web application's sluggishness over time.

The tool is designed to help Web developers find problems in the complex interactions of JavaScript, the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) that's assuming new duties in describing a Web page, and the Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) that handle formatting chores. "As more functionality moves from standard JavaScript into HTML and CSS, a lot of things are moving to native functionality, it gets harder to find performance problems," Bowers said.

• "Code-splitting" technology to break Web applications up into urgent sections that must be downloaded immediately and the other parts that can be sent at a more leisurely pace.

Bowers likened the incremental application download feature to streaming video, where people can start watching the video before the full movie has been downloaded. The feature was developed with the Google Wave team, he added.

• Coming from work with the AdWords team is UiBinder, which lets programmers separate an application's user-interface code from the program logic that actually does the thinking. The result: user interface designers can be given free reign without the logic programmers worrying about everything breaking, Bowers said.

Google also has used GWT to develop Google Health and iPhone Web applications such as Google Latitude and Gmail.

But GWT isn't universal at Google. Google Docs and Gmail, for example, rely on JavaScript but don't use GWT. Some of those projects grew from code bases that predate GWT, Bowers said.

But Google is working pretty hard on another JavaScript programming tool called Closure, which has its own compiler to produce fast JavaScript. It's another open-source project, and not just a historical artifact.

Different strokes for different folks, said Bruce Johnson, GWT's technical lead of the different tools.

"Probably Closure is going to be more targeted at someone who wants to write JavaScript to begin with," Johnson said. "GWT is for Java developers or people who see additional benefits to programming that way."