Late last week, Google made the announcement that Native Client has arrived to that stable version of Chrome, now at version 14. This essentially means that lower-level languages such as C++ can now be used for apps in the Chrome Web Store. At some point in the near future, with a technology called Portable Native Client, this will expand to encompass any application that may want to use this technology regardless if it has inclusion in Google’s own web application directory, a sign of some degree of openness in an environment that has often be criticized as being more closed than it should be.
An experimental version of this technology first appeared as a Chrome Lab in “about:flags” late last year in the browser, and Google has finally made it a regular feature of the browser, which will bode well for overall performance.
This is a significant step to be sure, but it makes one wonder what impact it will have, if at all, on the performance of the Cr-48 and Chromebooks that are on the market today. With all things considered, there are still some issues with Chromebooks being able to run certain web applications even with a dual core Atom processor as opposed to the Cc-48′s single core that can sometimes struggle to output video.
I often wonder if performance is one of the reasons that Chromebooks will not gain traction as quickly as some, such as Anton Wahlman from The Street, had predicted. While Native Client is one solution to this problem, it’s not going to be the be-all end-all that some might think in order to allow this market to grow. It’s going to take a number of elements combined in order for that to happen.
The onus on Native Client actually is on independent developers. That’s going to take time. What Google can do right now is try to do their best in optimizing future hardware devices that can perform at a higher level than these first generation device. While I do think that the current crop of Chromebooks are ably suited to business environs, the generally consumer that wants to enjoy media and interactive, processor intensive webapps are being left behind right now.
Sure, this inaugural set of devices are great early adopter machines, it seems to me that Google is going to have to aggressively move into the ARM-based processor segment in order to capture the consumer market when it comes to Chrome OS. The advantage between a person buy a regular computer versus a Chrome OS device comes down to simplicity. But you’re unable to play complex games while running Pandora and having your Gmail open, all advantages at that point go straight down the drain.
Look, Android didn’t take off until Motorola came out with a killer device for the operating system with the first iteration of the Droid phone. Many people didn’t think that Android would be able to survive in the phone market, and a lot of that in hindsight had to do with the devices that were available prior to the Droid.
Am I saying that Chrome OS will follow the same path from obscurity to popularity just because of what happened to Android? Not really. But it’s clear that Google’s purchase of Motorola gives me strong suggestions that they eagerly want to follow the same playbook. And that’s going to involve utilizing smaller, more efficient processors that can ably use Native Client to its full potential.