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Brendan Eich: Browsers Sharpening JavaScript Performance

In the course of writing an upcoming cover feature on Google Chrome and its impact on Google's Web platform aspirations, I had a 30-minute talk with Brendan Eich. In addition to being the chief technical officer of Mozilla Corp., the commercial entity behind Firefox development, Eich also happens to be the creator of the JavaScript programming language.

JavaScript, of course, is central to AJAX-based development and to Google's Web strategy. Eich said that developers shouldn't be too quick to abandon JavaScript development for proprietary rich Internet application (RIA) frameworks like Silverlight and Adobe Flex.

"The thing against those platforms, which have their advantages for sure, is it just seems the Web is going to innovate over time and disrupt those single-vendor platforms," Eich said. "It may not have all the tooling at first or even eventually. It may not have all the platform coherence that a single vendor can make happen by throwing a lot of engineers and a team at the problem. But it will have the reach, provided the browsers are upgraded."

While the V8 JavaScript just-in-time compiler in Chrome has gotten plenty of coverage over the past few weeks, Eich and his team have been hard at work perfecting a JIT compiler of their own for Firefox. The TraceMonkey JavaScript engine is producing significant gains over the SpiderMonkey interpreter currently deployed in Firefox 3.1.

These projects, combined with a similar project for the Safari browser, mean that all the major browsers not named Internet Explorer currently have an aggressive JavaScript JIT rendering engine in play. The question is, will Microsoft follow suit with IE 8?

"I think they will," Eich said. "They have lots of people. They have JavaScript technology already in .NET and I think they can do it. I have colleagues at Microsoft on the Ecma [standards] committee and just the body language and casual conversation makes me think they will. I just don't know when."

Eich said Microsoft may be constrained by IE's longer update cycle and the need to preserve older versions of IE for existing corporate applications. But ultimately, he expects Microsoft will have no alternative but to arm developers and users with competitive JavaScript performance in IE 8.

The larger question, he said, is whether JavaScript will start to blunt the momentum of Flex and Silverlight.

"I would just be interested in hearing from your readers or whoever, if over time the Web is actually creeping in and disrupting those stacks. I think it is. Certainly it is the big consumer play," Eich said. "I don't see a lot of startups saying I am going to use Flash as my UI because I really need to go that extra distance with glitziness, or I really need Silverlight for that extra data-binding magic and language integrated query in C#."

What's your stance on the JavaScript versus Flex/Silverlight debate? E-mail me at [email protected].

Posted by Michael Desmond on 09/23/2008

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