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Google building Spark, a Web-based development tool

The online programming tool, still in its early stages, is for writing Web apps within a Web browser. The open-source tool itself is built with Google's new Dart language.

Spark is a Google developer tool for writing Web apps from within a Web browser.
Spark is a Google developer tool for writing Web apps from within a Web browser.
Francois Beaufort

Google likes Web apps, but one area where native software remains dominant is programming tools. A Google project called Spark that came to light Thursday could change that.

Spark is a Web-based IDE (integrated development environment) that runs in a browser for developers writing Chrome apps, according to Google's Francois Beaufort, who tracks Chrome developments closely. That means, among other things, that Chromebook coders would have a way to be productive without having to move to a Windows, Mac, or Linux box.

"This is still the very beginning," Beaufort said on Google+. "There's not much we can do for now."

Intriguingly, Spark is built using Dart, Google's Web programming language that the company hopes will improve upon JavaScript. Google just released Dart 1.0 and now faces the challenge of persuading other browser makers to support it, but Dart programmers can use a utility called dart2js to convert their software into JavaScript. That means Spark should run on any modern browser.

What's a Chrome app? In short, it's a Web app that runs on Chrome. That means it can take advantage of Chrome abilities, such as Native Client, and be distributed through the Chrome Web Store. It's a concept that's somewhat antithetical to the cross-platform philosophy of the open Web, but it brings some order to a chaotic, fast-changing world.

Spark isn't the first such effort. Mozilla toyed with a project called Bespin; other online IDEs include Shiftedit and Cloud9.