Typography on the web has improved by leaps and bounds since the dark days of the blink tag, but it’s still a long way from ideal.
The demo movie above from Adobe shows off some WebKit-based experiments that seek to change that. Adobe Engineering VP Paul Gubbay narrates and the demo, and he shows how his team is extending the WebKit browser to do some new typographic tricks. WebKit is the open source engine behind Safari and Google Chrome, and it powers the most popular mobile browsers like the ones on the iPhone, iPad, iPod and all the Android phones. The demo certainly shows some impressive results.
However, we’re a bit suspicious of the methodology behind the results. Gubbay talks about extending WebKit’s CSS support via vendor prefixes, but neglects to mention what those prefixes are built against — in other words, there’s no mention of submitting a standard that other browsers could work from.
In fact, while the demo is pretty cool, the whole overview is too vague to say much about other than, “that would be nice.”
Also, note to Adobe, you don’t need to work with Google to work on WebKit. It’s an open source project. You can just submit your patches (instructions are here).
Chrome Experiments now has over 100 demos on offer, and we picked out some of our favorites for this little gallery.
We tested all of these experiments in multiple browsers, and almost all of them worked in Safari and Firefox, though they performed much better in the latest beta of Firefox 4 than in the current stable Firefox 3.x builds. Some of them also work splendidly in the latest Microsoft pre-release, Internet Explorer 9 preview 3.
In short, you don’t need Chrome to view these, but they will all be more impressive in Chrome than in other browsers.
Another day, another browser. Stainless was released by Mesa Dynamics as a proof of concept. The concept? A working, less ambitious version of Google’s Chrome browser.
According to the Stainless website, it is available (for free) now simply because the project is less ambitious than the eventual version of Chrome on the Mac. Besides the fact that it doesn’t have all the robust backend features Chrome will eventually have on its Mac version, from an end-user’s perspective it’s Google’s Chrome browser in all its speed and simplicity.
Stainless runs on Mac OS X Leopard — but only Leopard. Tiger enthusiasts may have to hang tight for Google’s eventual Mac release or use the variety of other browsers (Firefox, Safari) available.
Chrome and Stainless have a lot in common. At first glance, both browsers have almost identical streamlined interfaces. There is little to no clutter on the screen. The tabs line up at the top of the screen without menus maximizing web space. New tab windows are created by a little plus sign on the browser menu.
Stainless is a very stripped down browser. For evidence of this, look no further than the preferences panel. There are literally two options: A pulldown menu to designate what will open on startup — a welcome page or a home page of your choosing. The other option allows you to choose a default search from the address bar.
It does combine the address book with search, a feature now typical in all new browsers. Whether you call it the awesome bar (Firefox) or Quick Find (Opera) or whatever, the search and address fields are becoming more and more the same thing in all browsers.
There are plenty of proof of concept (read: alpha) issues too. Flash 9 is installed and video runs smoothly, but support for other plug-ins and add-ons are out. The major stopping block to making Stainless your default browser is it has no download manager, and therefore, no way to download anything.
It takes a bit more memory per tab than, say, Firefox, but it makes those tabs a fortress onto their own. If one tab breaks, it doesn’t take the browser down with it. When a tab is closed, the memory for the tab is freed.
The company and its multi-process design was inspired not only by Chrome, but also on a web-wrapper application called Hypercube. Hypercube is able to take widgets, gadgets and Flash movies from the web to your desktop. The way Hypercube is structured, running each widget on a different process, inspired the company to try out a browser.
Stainless joins another Chrome look-alike on the Mac scene, Codeweaver’s Crossover Chromium. Unlike Stainless, Crossover Chromium actually runs the Windows version of Chrome on a Mac desktop, albeit very slowly.
Taking a step back, the benefits of a streamlined browser like Stainless, or even Chrome, is it doesn’t make any promises. It won’t email or clutter things with buttons or programs you’re not sure of. It is stable as an application can be. Stainless adheres to this idea, ensuring all tabs run its own processes.
What this browser is, even if you consider it was not made to be taken seriously, is a bare bones window to the internet. A browser and a search bar and not much else. Perhaps this is what everyone really needs to allow the features of web applications speak for themselves. Speed and stability is important, but in this case, I doubt it. If Stainless is an indication of the future of open-source browsers, expect many more third-party browsers running off of existing rendering technology.
Luckily, because most of these new browsers will be working off of existing open-source rendering code, web developers will only have to work for the underlying rendering engines, and not the browsers themselves. For example, even if there are 100 Webkit-based browsers, I only need one Webkit-enabled webpage for them all.
Besides, it’s not likely these alternative browsers are going to get much traction. The jury isn’t out yet, but in spite of a first month spike in browser usage across the web, Chrome hasn’t taken much market share from its Windows competitor Internet Explorer or its runner-up Firefox. It is not like Chrome rip-offs like Stainless will do the same for Mac users either.
Opera and WebKit passed the first two stages of the ACID 3 test shortly after its release in March. These measure the actual tests themselves (100/100), plus the pixel-perfect appearance of the page. The final stage, “smooth animation,” has been a more difficult task. The passing version of WebKit does render for me without hiccups, but there appears to be no solid definition of “smooth.”
On the official release browsers I have access to, the highest score was a 75, for Safari 3.1.2. Firefox 3.0.2 was close with a 71.
Shortly after WebKit and Opera passed the test, Mozilla’s Mike Shaver said Firefox would not scramble to pass the tests and that ACID 3 was a missed opportunity:
“Acid 3 could have had a tremendous positive effect on the web, representing the next target for the web platform, and helping developers prioritize work in such a way as to maximize the aggregate capabilities of the web. Instead, it feels like a puzzle game, and I can easily imagine the developers of the web’s proprietary competitors chuckling about the hundreds of developer-hours that have gone into adding another way to iterate over nodes, or twiddling internal APIs to special case a testing font.”
Regardless, some within the Firefox community appear to be working on it, reporting scores in the mid-90s earlier this month.
Nobody at Webmonkey expected to wake up and experience an internet game change today, but with Google’s semi-accidental launch of the Chrome browser Sunday, that’s exactly what we got. We barely had enough time to clean up the coffee spittle on our monitors.
It started with a very candid and thoughtful comic. It used drawn characters of Chrome designers to eloquently describe the browser’s inner workings. If it wasn’t in comic form, it would read like a computer science lecture, and you’d be asleep in the time it takes to say “garbage collection.” However, in comic form, the technical document gently exposes you us to just what we’re getting into.
So what are we getting into with Chrome? Perhaps web 3.0.
The way it manages tabs, the way it treats errors, its blinding speed — when Firefox 3 was released, it made Firefox 2 seems slow. Chrome does the same thing to Firefox 3. There’s no doubt this is a game changer in the world of web development. Even the surprise announcement lent a hand to making this as big of news as web news can get.
It may sound hyperbolic, but there is some serious machinery going on under the hood. Let’s break it down.
Chrome — This is the first browser that incorporates the technology used in your desktop. Chrome basically acts like an operating system by treating tabs like applications. Each tab has its own protected memory, permissions and runs as its own process. If one misbehaves, you can pull up the Chrome task manager, see the processor and memory usage of the misbehaving site and close it on the spot.
This is similar to what Windows NT, and later XP, did with its protected memory in 2001. Protected memory was a popular selling point because it stabilized applications and allowed for better multi-threading. The same benefits apply to the multiple tabs of Chrome.
Gears — Because Gears has been around for over a year, there isn’t much to Gears that hasn’t already been said. Gears adapts some of the cooler functions of HTML 5.0 standards and adds an offline element to web surfing. It acts as the web developer friendly section of the Chrome package, enabling web developers to design faster and more powerful web applications. It is only fitting the technology is built into the browser.
Webkit — Webkit is the only non-Google open source project included in the browser package. It stems from an Linux browser named Konqueror and, most recently, used for Apple’s Safari browser. Developers claimed the memory management and speed were among its top sellers. They also claimed the last thing web developers need is another rendering engine.
They might be right. However, it is a bit of a slap in the face to Mozilla’s Gecko rendering engine. Given the financial and collaborative relationship Google has had with Mozilla in the past, it must be a hard pill to swallow in Firefox-land.
For its heavily asynchronous web applications to run better on a browser, Google acknowledged the browser needed to be redesigned from the ground up. It could’ve asked Mozilla to comply, and most likely it would have been rejected by Mozilla. Instead, it did the heavy lifting itself.
Much of the industry is now scrambling to try and figure out the Microsoftian threat Google poses. On the surface, Google is trying to redefine your window to the internet. When you consider how it deals with memory and how it protects your processes, it is, for all intents and purposes, the first successful combination of browser and operating system.
That said, how much of a threat can Google be if I (or you, or your neighbor) can jump in and write code for it? Releasing it under the BSD license, and even encouraging Internet Explorer and Firefox to steal code directly from the source, proves that Google wants nothing other than the capability to make their online properties more powerful. Google co-founder Larry Page sees Chrome as a way to increase competition and empower innovation in the long run.
“If there was only one choice [of browser], there wouldn’t be a lot of innovation out there,” Page proclaimed at a Chrome presentation Tuesday. “The web is really our connection to you, so it’s really important to us”
Sergey Brin, Google’s other co-founder, agrees: “Our business does well if there is a lot of healthy web usage … Our business does well if [people] are using the web and the internet a lot. Any usage of the internet through Chrome is a business win for us.”
The Chrome release and the way it treats web pages as applications is so innovative, it might have jumped years ahead of iterative advances from current browser offerings. It changes the game.
To the competition’s advantage, users may be slow to flock to Chrome. However, once they take it for a test drive, the speed of AJAX applications alone will set the bar high. It puts some heavy pressure on the browser competition to catch-up overnight.
Apparently, Mozilla developers were given an early peak at Chrome prior to the launch. How did it go? I’m sure the thoughts of threats swimmed in the minds of Firefox developers who have been working very hard on advancing browser technology for the last five years. Luckily, when you put any group of engineers together, the one common bond is on the coolness of technology. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Firefox drawing board looks a little different today.
In fact, it wouldn’t be a surprise if it didn’t start incorporating the groundbreaking work done on the Chrome and V8 source — something Chrome developers want badly. They’re eager for this technology to hit the street, and they don’t care too much how it gets there.
What Internet Explorer will do with this information is anyone’s guess. Their closed source browser sports some definite “me too” functions and is advancing in speed, but Microsoft has real potential to incorporate the Chrome multi-processing technology in its Windows operating system. More likely, Microsoft will take the ideas and develop its own counter attack, however slowly it may take.
There is one fact with literally no doubt — the web has become a whole lot faster, more powerful and mind-numbingly fast overnight.