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The new Google Earth powered by Web Components and Portable Native Client (NaCl)

Google today announce it's latest edition of Google Earth, which runs fully in a supported browser (at the time of writing Chrome only). In terms of web technologies the new tool leverages Polymer for user interface elements and Portal Native Client for rich functionality.

The new Google Earth experience replaces a desktop application and a custom browser plugin with a web technologies based stack. Notably the Angular Front End Framework seems to be absent from the new implementation, and probably for a good reason. Google is hedging it's bets between Web Components and Angular, but in this case there might have simply been no need for it in this type of an application.

In this case the Native Client (NaCl) technology is used to running untrusted native machine code within the Chrome browser. There are some special restrictions for the generated, which is automatically generated by the compiler toolchain. This is then statically verified when executed at the browser runtime. This is a special technology that is needed for the rich 3D functionality.

For user interface building the new experience leverages Web Component standards and the Polymer library. In 2016 Google announced that the next major YouTube revamp will be done using Web Components. Google is clearly putting their weight behind Web Components standard - which is already gathering support at other major browser vendors too. Apple, Mozilla and Microsoft are already implementing Web Components.

This is notable for the future of the web as Google is today the largest browser vendor on both desktop and mobile and thus largely influences which technologies will become used mainstream web sites. This is a unique position to be in as opposed to companies like Facebook, who essentially just need to write JavaScript polyfills like React to create functionality for browsers.

Written by Jorgé on Tuesday April 18, 2017

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