Firefox 3.1 & Google Chrome: Javascript Wins, Flash/Silverlight Lose

We work closely with Google Gears and other open source teams in Google. On multiple occasions, I have joked with them “Web apps like us need a really good Javascript engine, I hope you guys are working on it”. Well, now I know they had been working on it 🙂 

Being heavily invested in web standards and Javascript, we love the recent announcement of a new JIT based Javascript VM in Firefox 3.1, and today’s news of Google Chrome. These developments are a huge win for the entire ecosystem of web application developers. But the impact of this goes beyond the browser, as important as the browser itself has become.

The biggest losers in Google’s announcement are not really competing browsers, but competing rich client engines like Flash and Silverlight. As Javascript advances rapidly, it inevitably encroaches on the territory currently held by Flash. Native browser video is likely the last nail in the coffin – and Google needs native browser based video for its own YouTube, so we can be confident Google Chrome and Firefox will both have native video support, with Javascript-accessible VOM (video object model) APIs for web applications to manipuate video. As for Silverlight, let me just say that if Silverlight is the future of web computing, companies like us might as well find another line of work – and I suspect Google and Yahoo probably see it the same way too.

More speculatively, I believe we will witness the emergence of Javascript as the dominant language of computing, as it sweeps the client side and starts encroaching on the server. The server landscape today is split between “enterprise” platforms like Java and .NET on the one side (we ourselves are in the Java camp on the server side),  and “scripting” languages like PHP, Python, Ruby on the other, with Javascript firmly entrenched on the client.  Languages like Ruby promise tremendous dynamism and flexibility to the developer, but their relatively weak execution environments have held them back. It is telling that both Java and .NET come with state of the art just-in-time compilers, while none of the major scripting languages do.

With Firefox & Google Chrome announcments, and the recent developments on WebKit (which power Safari), now there are 3 compelling VMs for Javascript. These VMs promise a 10-fold speed up in Javascript execution. Combined with the rapid evolution of Javascript libraries, I believe the time has come for Javascript to start encroaching on the server landscape.

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