Steve Newcomb and Mark Lu had hit a wall. The co-founders had raised $1.1 million for their startup -- "sort of Pinterest meets About.me meets Facebook," says Newcomb. They'd been toiling long hours to build everything in HTML5, lured by the advantages of maintaining a single code base across all platforms.
Newcomb was the grizzled startup veteran whose most successful company, the natural-language search venture Powerset, had sold to Microsoft for $100 million to become part of Bing. Lu was a full stack engineer who, being just 21 years old, didn't mind attempting "things that would be Crazy Town for other people," as Newcomb puts it.
"Facebook is right. HTML5 isn't ready," sighed Newcomb.
"The fact is, it's the wrong tool," said Lu, referring to the renderer within the browser. "We're years away from this being fixed."
"Hmm. Yeah. Hmm. Why can't we do that?"
"That should give us a big advantage. How big?"
Lu did some quick calculations. "Possibly an order of magnitude."
Newcomb's jaw dropped. "That's ... really good. But how do we circumvent the browser's renderer without a plug-in?"
"We use the CSS3 primitive -webkit-transform: matrix3d, which lets us compute the composite matrix and skip the browser's renderer. No plug-in, no download, no hack. By appending this to each DIV, we can render the composite matrix and go straight to the GPU."
"Um, that sounds like really hard stuff."
"Not really. I'll have it done by tomorrow."
Lu and Newcomb didn't stop there and began addressing other performance bottlenecks. For one thing, Lu felt jQuery constructed the rendering tree the wrong way around and opted to emulate the way games handled rendering instead. CSS3 animations were sorely limited, but the gaming industry had long ago mastered performance and motion in a much more advanced way using physics.
As it turns out, the matrix3d transform is a W3C standard that must be supported by all browsers, so Famo.us apps such as this home page demo require no plug-ins. Moreover, rendering goes through DOM (Document Object Model), so all text in Famo.us applications is searchable (the company says it can now use the Canvas and WebGL elements of WebKit as well). Speeds of up to 60 frames per second can be achieved, depending on the platform. So far Famo.us will run on Chrome, Safari, or Firefox browsers (IE will come later) and even on hardware as wimpy as the iPhone 3.
Along with the four engines that comprise the Famo.us core, the company has developed templates to enable rapid application development. Last month Famo.us announced that its core would be available for free under an as-yet-unspecified open source license when the company releases its software sometime next year. Ultimately, Newcomb hopes the Famo.us core will become a part of WebKit.
Famo.us plans to make money by offering app templates and widgets (some free, some paid) along with selling hosting, analytics, and monitoring among other operations services. Enterprises will be offered a license that lets them "tap the engines directly and gives them tools to obfuscate their code to the nth degree," says Newcomb.
What sort of Famo.us apps might appeal to enterprise developers? The most obvious answer is simply that Famo.us supports a smooth, high-functioning UI across all platforms using a single code base. Personally, I think Famo.us will become one of several enabling technologies that gives enterprise developers the tools they need to stay relevant and produce public-facing mobile and Web applications that meet or exceed the high expectations of consumers. I can also imagine new types of apps that allow enterprise users to touch-interact with big data analytics -- or, more broadly, might even spark a new breed of gamified enterprise apps.
Famo.us completed a $4 million series A round in March and has hired only 10 people to date, including Dave Fetterman, former mobile engineering manager for Facebook. The company will shortly be embarking on its first closed beta program, where 40 developers will camp out in Famo.us's San Francisco offices to build apps. According to Newcomb, over 60,000 developers have already applied for betas.
This article, "Did these guys just reinvent the Web?," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog. And for the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld on Twitter.
This story, "Did these guys just reinvent the Web?" was originally published by InfoWorld.