‘Insider Stories of Chrome: a Full Cloud-Based Experience’ Meetup (Seattle Technical Forum)

Last night was the second Seattle Technical Forum meetup I was able to attend. It featured four Googlers talking about various angles of Chrome/Chromium development and ecosystem. Interestingly, the meetup was sponsored by Wicresoft, a Microsoft-launched and partly owned company that does IT outsourcing to China. The person who ran the meetup and introduced each speaker was a Wicresoft manager of some kind, and I was fairly sure there was a weird tension between him and the Google people.

The first presenter was Raghu Simha, Software Engineer in Test, who kicked us off with a discussion of the amazing improvements that Chrome has seen this year. Among the highlights were:

  • Mac & Linux versions
  • Great HTML5 support
  • The usual outstanding Javascript performance improvements
  • Web Store
  • Google Instant in the Omnibox
  • Flash & PDF readers integrated, and fully sandboxed
  • Autofill for forms
  • Native Client
  • Sync

Simha spent the rest of the time talking about how Sync works. Apparently Sync communicates with Google’s servers via XMPP, which I need to find more about. He also talked about the change in the Chromium release cycle to a 6 week / 3 channel model. Finally, he talked about the outstanding number of goats teleported by Chrome. Simha was apparently added to this presentation late in the game but seemed well prepared and interesting anyway.

Alberto Martin, Technical Program Manager, talked about Chrome OS. He attempted to demo the amazing new CR-48 Chrome OS device and show off how he could log into one he’d never used before and it would basically boot right to where he left off. However, he had trouble with his password, and had to change modes and demo things on a different device. Of course, in my experience, demos often fall over, tis the nature of the beast.

Eric Lee, Test Lead for Chrome OS, talked about the Chrome OS testing process. Many interesting details were covered:

  • Chrome OS is based on a highly trimmed and customized linux kernel
  • Since Chrome OS doesn’t have anything a tester needs (command line, java, python, the list goes on), they use a flexible test partition to get all the tools needed for testing onto the device
  • Autotest, the test framework used to test the Linux kernel, is used heavily
  • Managing the testing process in an open source project like Chrome OS is very tricky
  • There are some serious differences between Android and Chromium’s open source strategy (and I gather, some rivalry)
  • All aspects of Chrome OS testing are open: discussion, test plans, source code, etc.

Some cool highlights of Lee’s presentation were amazing Chrome OS performance results including less than a second resume-from-sleep times, and less than ten seconds from powered-off-to-login. An interesting tidbit was that he could not answer my question when I asked what percentage of the overall Chromium codebase comes from Googlers vs. outsiders – it sounds like that is actually a difficult number to pin down, which surprised me.

Finally, Alex Levich, Product Manager for the Chrome Web Store — and the only unfortunate non-engineer in the room — talked about various aspects of the Chrome Web Store ecosystem. She talked about how it allows great apps to rise to the top of the heap naturally (“like pagerank”) without curation, and how app creators can monetize content via subscription and purchase integration. She was really grilled by the audience during the Q&A, who found her marketing oriented answers flimsy.

They closed by raffling off an Android tablet as well as a CR-48, which I sadly did not win. I was thinking it could solve the kids-need-a-new-computer issue we are having pretty well… Anyway, although I wasn’t the big winner, they were giving a pretty good shwag item at the door: a pad of graph paper with Chrome outlines, as well a metal stencil of UI elements:

Afterwards, I had the pleasure of meeting Ken Chau, creator of SourceKit. SourceKit is an online code editor based on Cloud9′s Ace. Unlike Cloud9, SourceKit checks your code into DropBox. We had a good discussion about where he is trying to take this project, and it is pretty exciting stuff. I really need to actually try SourceKit and/or Cloud9 out and post something about it… Coding to the cloud is definitely where we are headed, at which point we can all switch to Chrome OS and live happily ever after.

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