Famo.us Preps Web Browser Engine for Public Beta

Michael Vizard
Mar. 14 2014, 09:18AM EDT

Rendering engines inside browsers have been the subject of some of the fiercest debate across the Web. Although HTML5 represents a significant advance in terms of the richness of Web applications, industry giants such as Facebook have balked over what are often described as “black box” implementations of rendering engines in browsers that support HTML5 and that were not nearly as fast as native environments on mobile computing devices. Now wading into the middle of that debate is Famo.us, a start-up that has developed a rendering engine, which is based on JavaScript and is compatible with HTML5 constructs. Capable of achieving performance levels that are at least 80 percent as fast as compiled C code, the rendering engine developed by Famo.us should finally put Web browser applications on an even footing with native code, says Famo.us CEO Steve Newcomb. Next month, Famo.us will make available a public beta of its rendering engine. Most recently, Famo.us invited a few developers with expertise in major and modern JavaScript app development frameworks -- such as Ember, Angular, and Meteor -- to start building a few early applications. Famo.us has already received a fair amount of attention in Apple circles. The company participated in one of the main keynotes at the Apple Worldwide Developer Conference in 2013. Newcomb is promising a significantly more consistent rendering experience. Right now, developers trying to create graphics application within HTML5 are subject to widely divergent rendering times because of the reliance on rendering engines that are based on version 3.0 of the Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Newcomb says the Famo.us rendering engine eliminates that issue without forcing developers to give up the cross-platform benefits of JavaScript and HTML5. Famo.us doesn’t plan to make money on the rendering engine itself. The company is developing a number of commercial services that developers can leverage, including an alternative to PhoneGap. However, Newcomb says that developers won’t be required to use any of those services to take advantage of the Famo.us rendering engine. The debate over native versus Web-based application development environments has been raging for years. Most developers have tended to pursue a hybrid approach as part of an attempt to marry the performance benefits of native code with the cross-platform efficiency of HTML5 and JavaScript. Nevertheless, if the rendering engines inside the browser improve significantly in the months ahead, then the debate about when to go native versus relying on industry-standard Web application development tools is about to enter a whole new phase.

Michael Vizard

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