Beyond the browser: Microsoft's 'C3' next-gen platform for HTML-based applications

Must a traditional Web browser be the primary way to interact with and navigate a Web application? Microsoft researchers think the answer is no.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor on

Must a traditional Web browser be the primary way to interact with and navigate a Web application?

Microsoft researchers think the answer is no. They are building another option -- 'C3,' an extensible platform for HTML-based applications. Along with University of Washington researchers, Microsoft researchers will show off C3 at the WebApps'11 conference this June in Portland, Oreg.

(C3 may stand for "cloud computing client," one of my contacts said.)

Word of the existence of C3 emerged last November when researchers posted a technical paper, entitled "Verified Security for Browser Extensions." That paper made mention of C3, which researchers called "a new platform for HTML5 experimentation developed entirely in a type-safe, managed language," specifically C#. (They also subsequently referred to C3 in that paper as "a research Web browser.")

There's a bit more information available now about C3 (though the full WebApps'11 paper on it is not yet available). From one of the University of Washington researcher's description:

"We present C3, an implementation of the HTML/JS/CSS platform designed for web client research and experimentation. C3 introduces novel extension points and generalizes existing ones, creating simpler and more powerful opportunities for customization. In addition, C3’s typesafe, modular architecture lowers the barrier to web and browser research. We discuss and evaluate C3’s design decisions for flexibility, and provide examples for various extensions that we and others have built."

And from a UW Engineering Web page on the project:

"Nothing inherently confines webapps to a browser’s page- navigation idiom, and browsers can do far more than merely render content."

The C3 team, which includes on the Microsoft side Wolfram Schute and Herman Venter, have done a lot of work around the concept of extensions, it seems. That leads me to wonder whether C3 is somehow connected to another Microsoft Research project, known as Xax.

"Xax is a browser plugin model that enables developers to leverage existing tools, libraries, and entire programs to deliver feature-rich applications on the web," according to the Microsoft Research web page about the project. "Xax employs a novel combination of mechanisms that collectively provide security, OS-independence, performance, and support for legacy code."

Microsoft Researchers are working on other browser- and HTML-app-centric projects, as well, including the ServiceOS/Verve one about which I've blogged previously.

Update: If you want to understand Microsoft's obsession on plug-ins, the just-posted blog entry from the Internet Explorer team on add-ons and IE 9 reliability is worth a read.

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