The most compelling demo in Eich’s presentation was Unreal Engine 4, an extremely impressive new generation of Epic’s powerful game engine. Brendan showed sample UE4 content running in Firefox, with incredible atmospheric lighting effects and other stunning visuals. The performance delta between Web and native is shrinking, making it possible for incredibly rich, hardware-accelerated 3D experiences to come to the browser.
In a particularly interesting session at the conference, an Intel representative talked about the company’s multifaceted collaboration with browser vendors. They are working on increasing parallelization so that rendering engines can take better advantage of modern multicore CPUs. They are also working to help HTML rendering engines take advantage of hardware acceleration more pervasively so that even more work can be offloaded to the GPU.
Improvements to rendering engine implementation can deliver fairly immediate and impressive results. Intel’s Mohammad Haghighat talked about a research project where parallelization resulted in a 42% performance boost in Firefox’s layout engine.
There are also a number of exciting projects in the standards ecosystem that will give developers the ability to unlock more performance in their own Web applications. SIMD, which is coming in ES7, will help developers speed up many kinds of multimedia processing tasks. According to Intel’s benchmarks, SIMD delivered performance gains of 4–10x for certain kinds of workloads.
My colleague Kris Kowal, author of the popular Q library, gave a presentation about Promises at Fluent. He demonstrated various usage scenarios and explained how Promises can be pipelined to simplify complex asynchronous workflows. He also demonstrated Q-Connection, a framework he built on top of Q that enables asynchronous communication between remote objects—useful for IPC and other similar needs.
The Web as an application platform
Although there are still significant gaps between what you can accomplish today with Web technologies and what you can do with native platforms, the Web is advancing faster than ever before. The performance challenges, in particular, no longer seem insurmountable.