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From: Robert O'Callahan <robert@ocallahan.org>
Date: Tue, 10 Mar 2015 14:01:35 +1300
Message-ID: <CAOp6jLYk4pbtWgeURbpqUJvxHs+xH0tPgU2fiOxbFBGR89t-ig@mail.gmail.com>
To: "public-houdini@w3.org" <public-houdini@w3.org>, Rick Byers <rbyers@chromium.org>, Dean Jackson <dino@apple.com>, Simon Fraser <simon.fraser@apple.com>
tl;dr: please read the whole thing before commenting :-)

A few weeks ago in Sydney there was a lot of discussion (mostly outside the
formal meetings) about various proposals on the table for enabling rich
graphical effects for mobile Web apps (e.g. UI Workers, animation-timeline,
beforescroll). I'm not sure if Houdini is the right place for this
discussion, but Dean assured me it is :-).

Here's what I think is the key issue: App developers want a single thread
running application code at "60fps", assembling each visual frame presented
to the user. This thread needs to be able to observe pointer events, sample
and modify animations, and communicate with the rest of the application.
For the sake of discussion, let's call this the "control thread". How can
we provide it in the Web platform? There seem to be two possible approaches:
1) Make the HTML5 task-loop thread the control thread. (Let's consider just
a single document for now, for the sake of discussion.)
2) Make some other thread the control thread. This implies some kind of
Worker to run JS on it. This doesn't exist in specs yet.

If we choose approach #1, we will need to design some new main-thread APIs
and do a lot of browser engineering work to make it work (to the extend
that it *can* work). If we choose approach #2, we will need new APIs for
this new kind of Worker. We could do both, though that would dilute
spec/implementation efforts and our message to developers. We have to make
a choice, even if the choice is "both".

=== Observations ===

#1 seens fragile when you're composing a complex document. For example,
it's not possible to create an animation library that will reliably hit
performance targets independent of what the rest of the application is
doing. #2 could be designed to support this.

With #1, enabling Web developers to hit performance targets consistently
across browsers, devices, and the full range of Web APIs seems like it will
be very hard.

Although #2 probably requires more new APIs, from my point of view it's
probably less implementation effort on the browser side than getting #1 to
work well.

With #2, if you think of the control thread being your primary application
thread, all the async APIs you could want are available, by postMessaging
to the main thread.

For #2, we can provide most existing APIs to a control thread Worker ---
except DOM manipulation (and by extension, full manipulation of CSS
layout). For example, if we want to animate CSS 'width' at 60fps with text
wrapping and border redrawing, we need #1. To some extent, #2 leads
developers away from using CSS and the DOM. It seems very unappealing to
replicate features like editable content, accessibility, text input and
rich text layout outside of CSS and the DOM, so if we end up wanting these
on the control thread, that's a problem for #2.

A critical question is whether #2 leads to a coherent application
development approach which integrates 60fps application rendering with
chunks of not-60fps CSS-rendered content, or whether it leads to an
architecture which is not compelling to developers, or whether it leads to
a bifurcation in the Web where apps and documents use separate APIs (and
how bad would that be?).

Personally I lean towards #2 currently, but I don't know enough to predict
the implications.

Rob
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Received on Tuesday, 10 March 2015 01:02:03 UTC

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