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Blog 03

Evolving at the Speed of Web

Oct 04, 2018

by Nicole Huesman, Community & Developer Advocate

September marked the Chrome browser’s 10-year anniversary, and oh how browsers — and the web — have evolved over the last decade! Today we use the web to connect with friends, stream movies or events, book a dinner reservation, order a latte, shop from the comfort of home, plan an exotic vacation, and more.

Despite the integral role the web plays in many aspects of our lives, we don’t typically think about how it does what it does. We talked with Barbara Hochgesang, strategic planner in Intel’s Open Source Technology Center focused on the web technology platform, to get her perspective on this evolution and what’s next.

Q: What is involved in strategic planning for web technology?

Strategic planners try to look 1 to 2 years out and understand what Intel’s processor and platform plans are, and then, how the software community or marketplace can maximize where our technology is headed. In turn, we listen to the marketplace and feed input back into our processor and platforms plans, so that we create this closed loop discussion. I focus specifically on the web platform technology and capabilities, working closely with my counterparts in business units across Intel.

Q: What are you most passionate about in your work? What drives you?

I like to see innovation and emerging usages. I think my focus on the web ensures I always have an eye on the ball in terms of where things are going. I also like how my work touches the world because whatever is happening on the web is not isolated to a geo or area — it’s a global phenomenon. So, the web’s global reach and constant evolution are very exciting to me. I see the future as very bright.

Q: In light of Chrome’s 10-year anniversary, how has open source helped drive the evolution in browsers?

One of the key decisions Google made 10 years ago was to open source its browser, called Chromium. This allowed communities to enhance the browser, allowed more developers to improve the environment, and it opened the door for other OSes — those that didn’t have a browser or made a strategic decision not to build their own—to use Chromium as their browser solution. As a result, Google has grown Chrome’s market share to between 65% and 75% of the browser market. With Chrome, Google took the browser market into a whole new space.

Q: What are some of the trends you’ve observed in web technologies?

In the last decade, the web has evolved from static pages to supporting richer content, becoming more dynamic, dealing with vast volumes of data and information, and transforming into what we call a universal platform. It’s more than just a browser — it’s now emerging as an application framework, thanks to the JavaScript language and myriad of runtime libraries, where developers can deliver cross-platform applications that utilize hardware capabilities. Over this time, people have been spending more and more time in the browser. Today users are spending 50% to 65% of their day within a browser. So, for Intel, the browser has become a killer app.

Q: As users spend more time in the browser, how does web technology evolve to keep pace?

Going forward, the browser can’t stand still. The attention span of users in this space is very, very low. They want the web to run quickly, and if it runs poorly or slowly, they jump off of a web site. So, users are demanding that the web platform technology evolves with the market. Performance is a key requirement. A lot is being done to ensure the web platform technology and JavaScript deliver an experience far closer to that delivered by native apps. One example is a technology specification called WebAssembly (WASM), which allows web apps to work at near native speed, and to tap into performance code or language so users don’t ever feel like they left their environment. Intel is working closely with this technology to determine how we maximize our threading capabilities, our core capabilities, and our memory. It’s a golden opportunity very similar to how we maximize native code.

Q: How has demand for immersive experiences, likes gaming and streaming, driven greater web capabilities?

The web is influenced by standards. One of these key standards is the World Wide Web Consortium, or W3C. This consortium was initially driven primarily by browser vendors. In the last four years, the membership has doubled, and we see entertainment and commerce industries getting involved — Disney, Netflix, Warner Brothers, Visa, MasterCard, and American Express. They’re all dependent on the web. We’ve heard from the entertainment industry that the web is their distribution vehicle of choice going forward. One example is Netflix. They totally understand the user experience from the edge all the way back to the servers. Netflix has said, I’m looking at the server, I’m looking at the client, and I’m looking at the end-to-end user experience. As a result, when I run Netflix, it runs seamlessly and doesn’t glitch and doesn’t have to buffer. I have to applaud the creative work that companies like Netflix do.

Q: How is Intel helping further immersive web experiences?

One of the ways that we’re involved — and that folks may underestimate — is graphics optimization. There’s a lot going on in graphics in the area of the web, guided by standards. Khronos is one consortium focused on developing standards for 3D graphics that impact virtual and augmented reality, parallel computing, neural networks and vision processing usages. In the area of 3D web graphics, Khronos has started to work with WebGL, which fully utilizes our graphics and graphics drivers. These will evolve over time to the W3C in something called WebGPU, a next-generation web standard for accelerated graphics. It’s very impressive to see Intel and other graphics leaders all trying to figure out how we can maximize media-oriented and other immersive experiences that our joint customers will expect from us.

When we think about immersive experiences, then we start to say, hey, what if it’s more than the browser, what if it’s a head-mounted device or augmented reality (AR) glasses that require greater computing capabilities. Our graphics team is rolling up their sleeves and digging in deep to optimize for complete graphics capabilities. And once the graphics community has done their work, then others can leverage that. So, WebGL or WebGPU can then be used by other web APIs to enable new usage models.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the concept of the progressive web and what it means to users.

When users are interacting with media content, social media, online shopping, or travel experiences, they want to go from one environment to another seamlessly. I could be on a single device, or I could migrate between devices — say, from my phone to my PC. If the new environment I’m migrating to offers more graphics capabilities, then the application I’m interacting with must be able to take advantage of these capabilities. Developers can no longer build for the least common denominator. They can’t build all these websites or applications to run solely on a phone, for example. Fine if they have to simplify things for the phone, but as soon as I access a website or application from my larger, more powerful machine, I want it to be able to take full advantage of that device’s capabilities, like graphics or media. This means you must scale your application for different devices.

Different media outlets have taken advantage of this progressive web concept, such as Forbes and the Washington Post, as well as commerce sites. One of my favorites is Starbucks. From my iPhone, I navigate to the Starbucks site to download the app without ever having to go to the app store. It automatically refreshes on my phone every time Starbucks enhances its app — I receive push notifications about a new happy hour, all of my points are tracked, and I can place and pay for orders all through my phone. And these capabilities are all integrated into my desktop, so I can place my order from my PC before I head to the office. Starbucks has reported increased sales on both mobile devices and desktops by the same amount.

Q: As people make more spending decisions via the web, how does this impact requirements and capabilities needed on the web?

In the commerce and payment area, there are two very successful web APIs that took off in the last 12–18 months — web payments and web authentication. Based on these APIs, people are feeling much more confident in their web transactions because these standards are supported not only by browser vendors but by commerce vendors like Visa, American Express and Discovery. They all have come together to ensure a consistent experience. I think it was World Bank that showed a user playing a game, and right within the game, the user had the option to purchase the next level by entering a pin number without leaving the game. At Intel, we try to look at all of the APIs and standards and determine where they touch Intel hardware and how can we optimize and architect for the future. As an example, in the case of web authentication, we reach out to the Intel security features, like Intel® Software Guard Extensions, or SGX, capabilities.

Q: In what other areas do you think the web delivers value?

It’s exciting to think of the web’s extensibility to areas like publishing and education. While books will never entirely be replaced by the web, publishers are very interested in the ability to serve content on the web. In the education space, more and more schools are putting their curriculum on the web so that educators can supplement learning with immersive experiences. In history class, teachers can supplement reading with virtual trips to the Smithsonian to look at key artifacts. Or, if we’re talking Roman history, students can not only read about the Forum, they can click through and be transported to that environment. The academic and publishing worlds have their pulse on what is happening in the evolution of the web, and how to extend the web.

Q: Artificial intelligence and machine learning are two of the hottest areas in computing today. What impact do these applications have on the world of the web?

From a broad perspective, Intel is embracing artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to enable new usage models. What the web does is to broaden reach or scale of these usage models, regardless of operating system. We’re working with the broader ecosystem to evolve the web to support AI and machine learning, and we’re expecting strong interest among developers and users for these intelligent applications. It’s exciting to work across Intel, the ecosystem, and end user communities to identify a few key usage models that we can help scale through web platform technologies in market segments such as healthcare, shopping, gaming and immersive experiences, and the requirements needed to do this.

Q: You mentioned the W3C earlier. How is Intel is working with the W3C to foster web standards?

The W3C is a very sophisticated organization that’s been around for a while with strong leadership. As I mentioned, its membership has doubled over the last few years because more developer communities are now participating, which is fantastic to see. At Intel, the W3C touches so many organizations and business units across the company — teams focused on operating systems, security, developer relations and more. We have one Advisory Committee rep, Eric Siow, who provides ‘one voice’ for Intel into the W3C. In addition, Kenneth Christiansen has an active role on the Technical Advisory Group, called TAG. Kenneth’s insights help us make sure we’re well aware of the different technologies and architectures, and help us understand how Intel can help accelerate innovation.

Q: With so much happening in web platform technologies, what are the biggest challenges?

Open source and the web communities tend to be consensus-based in their orientation. Whenever they find a good user or business requirement, they move quickly. Other times, they move slowly. I think their biggest challenge is to determine how to provide the greatest value in the shortest amount of time, and how to balance business needs and requirements with shortest delivery of what users and developers want.

Q: As you look ahead, what are you most excited about?

The web is not going to stand still. It’s going to continue to grow and evolve, independent of price point, economic environment or geography. Companies like Starbucks, Netflix, Amazon, Google and others are doing all sorts of way cool stuff — they’re really pushing the bounds of technology and investing in web technology. We’re excited to be a part of it as this environment evolves to meet the needs of the next generation of users.