Chrome, JavaScript, and Flash: Two (Mostly) Opposing Views

by Ostatic Staff - Sep. 03, 2008

In one of the more interesting reviews of Google's open source Chrome browser, released yesterday, AP technology writer Peter Svensson suggests that Google missed the boat by focusing on JavaScript performance in the browser, and submits that the real culprit behind much pokey web performance and many browser crashes is Adobe's Flash. Notably, Svensson's diatribe against Flash coincided with some interesting comments sent to us at OStatic from AdventNet/Zoho CEO Sridhar Vembu. Vembu sees Chrome's focus on JavaScript as right on, to the point where it may begin to stifle Flash. Here's the gist of all this.

Peter Svensson's review of Chrome includes this:

"At work, I often have 40 or 50 tabs open in Firefox, grouped in different windows depending on which topic they pertain to. Frequently, Firefox would slow down all the other applications on my computer, then seize up completely."

At first I thought JavaScript was to blame, and blocked it from running. But that made many sites unusable, and it didn't help: The browser still froze."

"It turns out the culprit is not JavaScript but another technology used to make Web pages more interactive: Adobe Systems Inc.'s Flash plug-in. It's the program-within-a-program that plays YouTube videos and those annoying "splash" pages that some sites employ to dazzle you with animations. Flash is a tremendous resource hog in Firefox, eating up processor time to the point where there is nothing left for other programs. Luckily, there's a small add-on program for Firefox that lets the user prevent Flash files from running automatically when a page loads, and it turns Firefox into a stable, efficient browser."

The extension that Svensson is referring to is Flashblock. Svensson submits that since there is no equivalent of Flashblock for Chrome, faster Javascript in Chrome becomes a moot point because Flash will still hog resources left and right even when you're not on a Flash-enabled web page that you may have open in a tab.

Sridhar Vembu, CEO of AdventNet/Zoho, sent us some comments about Chrome, and he too laments the resource hogging that Flash is prone to, but he sees a strong future for fast JavaScript in browsers. (Zoho makes a giant suite of free, on-demand applications, which make heavy use of JavaScript, and of Google Gears.) I also liked his zingers regarding Microsoft's Silverlight. Here are some thoughts from him:

"Being heavily invested in web standards and Javascript, we love the recent announcement of a new JIT-based Javascript VM in Firefox 3.1 and today's news of Google Chrome. These developments are a huge win for the entire ecosystem of web application developers. But the impact of this goes beyond the browser, as important as the browser itself has become."

"The biggest losers in Google's announcement are not really competing browsers, but competing rich client engines like Flash and Silverlight. As Javascript advances rapidly, it inevitably encroaches on the territory currently held by Flash. Native browser video is likely the last nail in the coffin — and Google needs native browser-based video for its own YouTube; so we can be confident Google Chrome and Firefox will both have native video support, with Javascript-accessible VOM (video object model) APIs for web applications to manipulate video. As for Silverlight, let me just say that if Silverlight is the future of web computing, companies like us might as well find another line of work — and I suspect Google and Yahoo probably see it the same way too."

"More speculatively, I believe we will witness the emergence of Javascript as the dominant language of computing, as it sweeps the client side and starts encroaching on the server. The server landscape today is split between "enterprise" platforms like Java and .NET on the one side (we ourselves are in the Java camp on the server side) and "scripting" languages like PHP, Python, and Ruby on the other, with Javascript firmly entrenched on the client side. Languages like Ruby promise tremendous dynamism and flexibility to the developer, but their relatively weak execution environments have held them back. It is telling that both Java and .NET come with state of the art just-in-time compilers, while none of the major scripting languages do."

"With the Firefox and Google Chrome announcements, and the recent developments on WebKit (which powers Safari), now there are three compelling VMs for Javascript. These VMs promise a 10-fold speed up in Javascript execution. Combined with the rapid evolution of Javascript libraries, I believe the time has come for Javascript to start encroaching on the server landscape."

I tend to agree that faster JavaScript is good news for us all, and to the extent that Flash is a resource hog for Chrome users, I won't be surprised to see extensions arriving for Chrome in short order, one of which will surely block Flash.

In fact, since Chrome shares so much code with Firefox, I'm still wondering how easy it may be for developers of Firefox extensions to do easy ports of their plug-ins for Chrome. Even if Google itself needs to deliver an equivalent to Flashbock, that doesn't seem like the world's tallest order. And if Chrome quickly gets extensions ported over to it, that would be one of the best developments possible for this new open source browser.