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10 Dec 11 Chrome-Only Games Arrive: Other Browser Makers Cry Foul!

In another move to make Chrome the required and only browser that runs certain Web content, Google yesterday announced some new games that would run only in Chrome, using the browser’s Native Client (NaCl) capability. With Chrome 14, Google added a new Chrome-only feature that allows the browser to run applications programmed in hardcore languages like C and C++ as opposed to the simpler JavaScript Web programming language, which is also removed by a layer from the underlying machine through an interpreter. Programs written in C and C++ are compiled for use only on a specific platform, such as Windows or Mac OS X, so game developers have typically used these for maximum responsiveness and hardware compatibility.

Yesterday, Google announced on its Chromium blog that game developer partners Square Enix, Unity Technologies, and Bungie have begun developing for the technology. A Square Enix press release states that the company and Google “share a similar vision for bringing immersive applications to the Web within the browser.” Square Enix CEO Yoichi Wada said, “Native Client enables the same consumer experience in the browser as in a native application. With the power of this technology, Square Enix is pushing the boundaries of the browser gaming market.”

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But you won’t find another browser maker that’s as sanguine about the development that Google’s NaCl represents. By contrast, Microsoft has aimed toward hardware acceleration of Web-standard-compliant content in its IE9 and IE10 browsers, and has shown demos of games that use those open standards. And Opera’s CTO, Håkon Wium Lie (who came up with a little thing called CSS), made the following three points to

• Opera believes the future of application development is in standardized web languages like JavaScript, HTML5, and CSS3.

• Returning to native code seems like a backwards step.

• The performance of JavaScript has improved immensely over the past few years. Also, computing-intensive tasks like animations can be specified declaratively in CSS3 and SVG without the need for native code.

“Google’s Native Client approach is another way of running compiled, platform-specific binary code in a Web browser,” Chris Blizzard, Mozilla’s director of web platforms, told “It’s not part of the standards-based Web as it’s locked to specific combinations of hardware and operating systems. It’s Mozilla’s mission to ensure that the open technologies of the Web offer all that’s needed to make Web applications powerful and interesting, and to see the need for native code use to diminish over time.”

Mozilla’s vice president of products Jay Sullivan put it even more simply to The Register: “These native apps are just little black boxes in a Web page. That’s not something we’re pursuing. We really believe in HTML, and this is where we want to focus.”

As with most of its code—with the egregious exception of its search algorithm—Google has claimed that the technology is “open source.” But no other browser maker is working on or has plans to implement NaCl or its accompanying Pepper API that allows the C programs to access the same interfaces used by JavaScript.

The term “open-washing” has been coined to refer to this kind of technology that’s called “open” but in reality may as well be completely proprietary. It makes sense that Google would want to be able to port full-performance games to its browser, because its browser is also the operating system for its Chromebooks, whereas other browser makers don’t have that need, and therefore aren’t interested in NaCl. Chalk it up as another Google service that the company passes off as open, but that in practice may as well be as proprietary as something you might see from, say, Apple.

For more from Michael, follow him on Twitter @mikemuch.

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