Monday, February 04, 2008

Quick Poke: Look at MS Live Labs' Volta

If you haven't seen Microsoft's Volta project, it's worth a look.

Volta is about two big things:

(1) Blurring the lines between applications tiers to allow declarative or even automated tier-splitting (yes, there are lots of issues with this, but the MS team insists it's aware of the historical legacy of the distributed computing "leaky abstraction" and won't muck things up by pretending it's not an issue).

(2) Automagic cross-compilation between, say, .Net IL and JavaScript.

Whoa, what's that last bit?!

After the initial flurry of press coverage, the team insists that running arbitrary .Net IL on any old JavaScript-capable browser is no big deal, just a convenient demo, don't focus on that part... But, seriously folks, a couple of months on since the project was made available to the general public, the tier splitting is looking less and less interesting, and the cross-compilation is looking more and more interesting.

Once upon a time, crazy people did crazy JavaScript stunts. Like this demo that emulates the hardware of an entire 80s-era game system complete with game, or this similar 6502-based emulator.

Emulating a modern VM like the JVM or CLR is not practical from a performance point of view. But JavaScript runtime as a compilation target is becoming increasingly popular: first we had GWT and Script#, which compiled Java and C# respectively to JS. But because they only compiled your code supplied minimal bits of the respective class libraries (Java API/.Net BCL), their use was restricted.

So here's a wicked end run around that: take anything that compiles to IL -- or any IL binary! -- and run it in a browser. According to the Volta team, it has been done in such a way that all of the object semantics from the original language are preserved. Unless they also port the Win32 API to JavaScript, it's not like we're going to see WinForms apps running on Safari. But this is being positioned as a fallback for, say, places where Silverlight isn't installed.

Go here and look at the demos. The perf is awful -- but that's not the point of the demos. So far as I can tell, this is the first commercial implementation of what we all kind of knew might be coming.

1 comment:

David said...

Adam, you may be interested in a "Tier Agnostic Request" architecture for client centered distributed computing. See: Tier Agnostic Requests and Microsoft Volta