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Gaikai ported to Chrome Native Client, which is a bigger deal than it sounds

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At Google I/O 2012 this week, Gaikai demonstrated a version of the streaming game service that doesn't require Flash or Java.

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Gaikai, the streaming game service, can let you play games in a browser window. That's impressive, but it's nothing new. Gaikai's service typically uses Java, which means you'll have to install Java, update it, and possibly even grant it permissions before you play a demo of a game. Each one of those clicks and every second you wait is another opportunity for you to decide you'd rather not play anything.

But at Google I/O 2012 this week, Gaikai demonstrated a version of the service that doesn't require any download or installation at all. It uses Google's Native Client (NaCL), which sandboxes traditional code to be delivered in Chrome OS or the Chrome desktop browser, but actually run directly on the underlying hardware. While most Native Client games require a download, though — From Dust requires up to 1GB — Gaikai has a unique advantage in that its games can begin streaming almost immediately.

Gaikai CEO David Perry told us last month that he was looking for a way to eliminate Java from the equation (among many, many other things), and when we spoke to him today, he said that Gaikai can run at 60 frames per second using NaCL, with no limitations that the company's aware of. In case you're not aware, streaming games run on servers in the cloud and merely send compressed video frames, so it doesn't much matter what kind of device you play on. On stage, Google showed off Bulletstorm running on a Samsung Chromebox.

Gaikai couldn't tell us when we could expect to have a full version of Gaikai for Chrome or Chrome OS, only that it is coming "soon," and that the exact timing would be up to Google. Theoretically, mobile devices like tablets or phones could play too, but last we heard, Native Client might not work on mobile versions of Chrome. It might have to wait until Google figures out its unified gaming initiative, or perhaps bypasses the incompatibilities with a straight HTML5 version of some sort.