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Chrome 9 beta to bring faster, fancy graphics
Friday, January 14th, 2011 by Chinh Do

Mozilla and Microsoft have been racing to see which will be the first to release a production-quality browser with hardware-accelerated graphics, but at the current rate, it could be Google's Chrome 9 that crosses the finish line first.

Google likely will be issuing Chrome 9 in beta form soon. It had been planned for Tuesday, but Anthony LaForge, a Chrome technical program manager, pushed it back. "The crash rate [of] 400 crashes per million page loads on the browser is simply too high," he said in a mailing list message

Hardware acceleration isn't a simple either-or situation, but rather a long list of possible ways a graphics chip can speed up the task of painting pixels on a screen. Among aspects that can be accelerated: SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics); 2D graphics drawn with the new Canvas feature; font rendering; video decoding and resizing; the graphical formatting, transitions, and transformations of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets); WebGL for 3D graphics; and compositing different elements of a Web page into the single view a person sees.

Chrome is due for at least some of them–compositing, WebGL, and 2D Canvas, for example. However, it's very much a work in progress: accelerated 2D Canvas is disabled in Windows XP, and a second phase of 2D Canvas acceleration is currently scheduled for Chrome 11.

WebGL holds the potential to dramatically transform the Web, most notably through 3D games but also many other possibilities such as online maps and virtual worlds. Google, with Chrome OS heightening its emphasis on Web applications as an alternative to native, is a major advocate of WebGL.

Chrome relies on the OpenGL interface for 2D and 3D graphics acceleration. That's complicated on Windows, where OpenGL support is spotty in comparison to Microsoft's rival DirectX technologies. Google sidesteps the limitation through a project called ANGLE that translates OpenGL commands into DirectX.

Even so, there are plenty of problems. To minimize them, Chrome will come with a blacklist to disable the feature on incompatible computers.

Also of note for Web appliction fans is Chrome 9's support for IndexedDB, a developing standard that enables Web application storage. That could be instrumental for reinstating Google Apps' ability to work offline, a major requirement for the success of Chrome OS and the cloud-computing philosophy.

Speaking of Web applications, Chrome 9 also comes with a new task manager to show what Web applications are running, including background applications that might not be immediately apparent.