Google reinvents the applet with Portable Native Client

Google reinvents the applet with Portable Native Client

Summary: Google looks to take C and C++ across the web with its Portable Native Client.


The "write once, run anywhere" promise of Java from the 90s is back in a new guise, as Google today announced Portable Native Client (PNaCl) with the promise to allow developers to "compile their code once to run on any hardware platform and embed their PNaCl application in any website".

"Under the hood, PNaCl works by compiling native C and C++ code to an intermediate representation, rather than architecture-specific representations as in Native Client," wrote Google engineer, David Sehr, in a blog post. "The LLVM-style bytecode is wrapped into a portable executable, which can be hosted on a web server like any other website asset.

"When the site is accessed, Chrome fetches and translates the portable executable into an architecture-specific machine code optimized directly for the underlying device."

Google touts that developers will not need to recompile applications to run across different chip architectures.

It all sounds awfully similar to the applet approach that Java took in the bad early days of the internet.

The saving grace of PNaCl is that it does not involve the installation of a runtime that allows multiple attack vectors on the client machine, ala Java, and instead is run either through Chrome itself, or with the help of Emscripten and pepper.js for other browsers.

Google recently announced that by year's end, it would be discontinuing Chrome's support for all Netscape Plugin API plugins in favour of Native Client, Chrome's Pepper Plugin API, Packaged App, or Legacy Browser Support interfaces.

Topics: Web development, Google


Chris started his journalistic adventure in 2006 as the Editor of Builder AU after originally joining CBS as a programmer. After a Canadian sojourn, he returned in 2011 as the Editor of TechRepublic Australia, and is now the Australian Editor of ZDNet.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Google repeats history.

    I am saddened by Google's attempt to make Chrome the IE6 of our generation. They had such a wonderful thing going. Why would they want to repeat the mistakes of Microsoft from the 1990's? I thought we left ActiveX and Java Applets and to a lesser extend Flash behind?

    • Profit maximisation

      Google and Microsoft are both profit maximising firms. Microsoft’s early IE strategy (embrace and extend) was very successful, and without intervention by competition authorities, IE would probably still have a near monopoly in the web browser market, instead of simply being the market leader (Chrome leads in some countries, but IE’s dominance in Asia means it’s still the overall leader). If IE still had a near monopoly, websites would still be written first for IE, with other browsers as an after-thought, and this would add value to Windows, helping to protect its dominant position.

      If Google can imitate Microsoft’s IE strategy to lock Chrome users into the Google advertising platform, it’s the profit maximising strategy, so they’ll do it. It’s disappointing for supporters of web standards etc., but the simple fact is that commodity products are not profitable, so investing in Chrome development only makes sense for Google if they can use it to support their ad business, by creating barriers to entry etc. (e.g. via lock-in). It was exactly the same with Microsoft and IE, except that with Microsoft it’s the Windows OS business rather than the ad business that’s relevant.

      Whereas Microsoft’s IE tactics were ex post illegal (but not ex ante illegal), because of the dominant position of Windows, the legality of Google’s Chrome tactics is still unclear (again, they are not ex ante illegal). If Google are using Chrome to leverage their dominant position in the web and mobile ad markets, then it’ll probably be found to be illegal ex post, but the trouble with this sort of law is that the legality only becomes known after a court ruling (which is why the punishments tend to be much lighter than for per se illegal activities, like price fixing).
      • really?

        Net Applications sponsored by MS is the only comoany who is claiming that IE is near monopoly. All the other stats counter show IE usage is far away Chrome. In Vietnam, most of windows computers are still running XP but no one is using IE . If you add other devices ( smarphones and tablets) then IE has only 16% of the total market share.
  • ChromeOS or Chrome?

    Is this more about getting native apps into the Chrome store for ChromeOS than within Chrome itself? I'm sure it is