Browser makers trade barbs over speed moves

Microsoft claims it's the best at hardware acceleration, Mozilla claims it was there first, and Google promises it's in the race

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Firefox 4 won't accelerate all phases of page construction in Windows XP -- only the compositing stage, by calling on the Direct3D API, which the old operating system does support.

Google was less specific about its plans for Chrome but will hardware accelerate its browser too.

Like Firefox, Chrome on Windows will be accelerated for XP, Vista and Windows 7, but Google developers have yet to disclose or even finalize all the details. In an interview Tuesday, however, Brian Rakowski, Chrome's director of product management, said the browser would be competitive.

"When we're done, we'll have just as good performance [using hardware acceleration] as any other browser," said Rakowski. "We're just beginning, and already seeing major improvements."

Google added the opening bits of its hardware acceleration, which relies on the Canvas 2D element of the HTML5 standard, to Chromium just two weeks ago. Chromium is the open-source project that feeds into Chrome.

But while Rakowski acknowledged that the Chrome has catching up to do, he promised that the technology would be in users' hands in eight weeks. "We'll have something out in a couple of months," he said, referring several times to the faster-paced schedule Google committed to in July.

Google hasn't completely decided how it will accelerate Chrome on Windows, but a few things seem set. Some chores, including 2D rendering, will continue to be done by the computer's primary processor, while 3D and other pixel-intensive content, like video, will be shunted to the GPU. "We think that this approach will yield the greatest performance improvements," Rakowski argued.

"What matters is the performance we can deliver at the end of the day," he added.

Chrome's commitment to the OpenGL standard also makes for more challenges than those facing IE. To access the Direct3D API for page compositing, Google had to create the ANGLE (Almost Native Graphics Layer Engine) graphics driver that then maps OpenGL to Direct3D.

Johnson criticized that approach last week, calling anything that sat between the code and the API an "abstraction layer."

"When there is a desire to run across multiple platforms, developers introduce abstraction layers and inevitably make trade-offs which ultimately impact performance and reduce the ability of a browser to achieve 'native' performance," Johnson charged.

"We don't believe that's true," said Rakowski. "It's not going to have a negative impact."

Mozilla also took umbrage at Firefox being cast as a second-class browser, because it runs on Mac OS and Linux as well as Windows.

"For all [Microsoft's] hand-waving about the difficulties of multiplatform acceleration that, according to them, the other browser vendors face, it seems Microsoft are the ones struggling to support even their most popular Windows," said Dotzler.

Yet it wasn't all bickering among browser makers. "We're happy to see some progress in this area, and it's good that there's a lot of competition," said Rakowski.

Mozilla's O'Callahan added his own congratulations. "Kudos to Microsoft for creating Direct2D, backporting it to Vista and making it awesome," he said.

Microsoft is expected to release the IE9 beta around 1:30 p.m. Eastern today.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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