Even at the cutting edge of cloud computing, Web-based applications can be frustrating to write and to use.
Spreadsheets can't sort data well, there are lags between mouse clicks and the program's response, graphics look Mickey Mouse rather than lavish. But Google, among the most aggressive cloud computing advocates, is trying to address some of those shortcomings.
The company has released experimental but still very much real software that brings in some of the power of the PC, where people often use Web applications. Google Native Client--first released in 2008 but updated with a new version Thursday--is a browser plug-in for securely running computationally intense software downloaded from a Web site. And on Tuesday, Google released O3D, a plug-in that lets Web-based applications tap into a computer's graphics chip, too.
The projects are rough around the edges, to say the least. Native Client--NaCl for short--is more security research project than usable programming foundation right now, and O3D exists in part to try to accelerate the arrival of some future, not necessarily compatible, standard for building 3D abilities into Web applications.
But both fundamentally challenge the idea that Web apps necessarily are stripped-down, feeble counterparts to the software that runs natively on a personal computer, and they come from a company that has engineering skill, a yen for moving activity to the Internet, and search-ad profits that can fund projects that don't immediately or directly make money.
"There are things you can do in desktop apps that you can't do in Web apps. We're working very hard to close that gap, so anything you can do in a desktop application you can do safely and securely from a Web application," said Linus Upson, a Google engineering director. … Read more