If you want to see the scale of browser makers' ambition to remake not just the Web but computing itself, look no farther than a new 3D technology called WebGL.
The WebGL vision is simple. You're running around in a video game universe, blasting radioactive aliens--but you got there by visiting a Web site, not by installing the game on your PC.
This sort of computationally demanding chore contrasts sharply to with today's Web, whose top-notch programmers strain to reproduce bare-bones versions of the rich capabilities open to applications running natively on a computer.
WebGL, while only a nascent attempt to catch up, is real. WebGL now is a draft standard for bringing hardware-accelerated 3D graphics to the Web. It got its start with Firefox backer Mozilla and the Khronos Group, which oversees the OpenGL graphics interface, but now the programmers behind browsers from Apple, Google, and Opera Software are also involved.
Perhaps more significant than formal standards work, though, is WebGL support in three precursors of today's browsers--Minefield for Mozilla's Firefox, WebKit for Apple's Safari, and Chromium for Google's Chrome. Opera has started implementing WebGL, too, said Tim Johansson, Opera's lead graphics developer.
With a little tinkering--check the instructions and caveats below--you can give it a whirl, too. Overall, I was favorably impressed with the technology.
Its performance certainly isn't enough for a competitive first-person shooter, but it's approaching utility for casual gaming. And because of how WebGL elements can be integrated with the rest of a Web site's code, it's got some advantages.
What is WebGL? WebGL is one of a handful of efforts under way to boost the processing power available to Web applications. It marries two existing technologies.