Google building 3D hardware boost into Chrome

By building its O3D plug-in into Chrome, Google is laying more groundwork for faster Web applications in its browser--and later, for Chrome OS.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
Stephen Shankland worked at CNET from 1998 to 2024 and wrote about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
3 min read

Departing significantly from what other browsers offer, Google has begun building its O3D plug-in for hardware-accelerated 3D graphics into its Chrome browser.

"The O3D team is working on getting O3D integrated into the Chromium build, and we're close to being able to complete our first step towards integration," said programmer Greg Spencer in a mailing list announcement Wednesday about Chromium, the open-source project that underlies Chrome itself. "I'll be making the Windows build of Chromium be dependent upon building O3D as part of the build process."

By helping to pave the way for high-powered Web-based games, the move furthers Google's ambition to speed the transformation of the Web from a static medium into a foundation for applications. Another piece of the work is Google Native Client, which is designed to let Web applications take advantage of a computer's native processing power.

The overall effort has taken on new importance with the announcement of Chrome OS, Google's Chrome-based operating system set to arrive on Netbooks in the second half of 2010. Chrome OS will use Linux under the covers, but the real foundation for Chrome OS applications is the Web, Google has said.

Native Client coming, too
Google plans to build Native Client into Chrome, too.

"We recognize 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," said Brad Chen, engineering manager of the Google Native Client effort, in June.

Just offering the technologies is only a first step. Google must convince programmers to learn to use them and convince Web developers to embrace them. That's not simple, especially when few browsers can take advantage of them.

Brad Chen, engineering manager of the Google Native Client
Brad Chen, engineering manager of the Google Native Client Stephen Shankland/CNET

Chrome won't be the only browser to feature the acceleration features, though, because Google is working on plug-in versions, too. By building the technology into Chrome, Google could exert some pressure on others to support it.

Making Native Client and O3D into some kind of standard could help convince programmers the technologies are worth supporting and win over potential rivals. "The support of ratified standards (that Web developers) can use is something that we are extremely supportive of," said Amy Barzdukas, general manager for IE, in an earlier interview.

After years of near-dormancy, development of HTML, the language used to describe Web pages, has hit a feverish pace right now as browser makers try to make the Web into more of an applications platform.

Browser wars are back
Google added new fury to the browser wars when it introduced Chrome in September 2008. Chrome has attained a small but respectable market share of nearly 2 percent, according to research from Net Applications, but it has a long way to go expanding from the technophiles to the mainstream.

Chrome doesn't have the Internet Explorer or Safari advantage of being built into an operating system--though that could change over the years if Chrome OS manages to overcome its challenges and catch on widely. And Mozilla's Firefox took years to achieve its present market share of about 20 percent, making it the top alternative to IE and in widespread enough use that Web developers often choose to make sure their Web sites work with it.

Google has been spending a lot of time reproducing what other browsers already have--plug-ins, bookmark management, print preview, and any number of mundane but useful features. But Google also has been working on innovation, including more robust security and faster performance when running applications written in the JavaScript Web programming language.

Google has high hopes that it'll be able to match the performance of desktop applications with its technology.

"With O3D, we think we'll be able to enable high-quality games, the kind you're accustomed to seeing on consoles, as well as CAD (computer-aided design) applications," Chen said in a May speech. And regarding Native Client, "We want to be within single-digit percentages of what you can do with the best desktop native code," he said.

Google also is participating in a separate 3D Web graphics effort spearheaded by Mozilla and the Khronos Group.