A View from Erica Naone
Why the Next Firefox Upgrade Matters
Browsers are changing to accommodate sophisticated Web applications.
Maybe you’re not planning to run a browser application that parses the feed from your security camera? A less flashy but equally important example of the concept can be seen in the new Offline capability from Gmail Labs. Using offline mode, users can access Gmail online or off (or in “flaky connection mode,” which smooths out the experience of a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t Internet connection, or a four-hour Gmail outage). One key part of the underlying technology is WorkerPool, which, like Firefox’s worker threads, allows intense computation to go on in the background while the user interacts with the Gmail interface. In a conversation I had recently with Gmail product manager Todd Jackson, he explained to me that WorkerPool is what allows Gmail to perform the heavy task of coordinating the data in a user’s online Gmail account with what’s stored offline, without forcing the user to wait for long periods while the browser responds.
These changes are just part of a larger trend of re-engineering browsers to improve their ability to handle Web applications. Google’s Chrome browser is one example of this, as is work on the W3C’s HTML 5 specification, which is making great strides in standards for Web applications.