Google trumpets Chrome's SPDY gains

Although Google online services have adopted the protocol, 8 of the top 10 U.S. Web properties have not

Google on Wednesday touted the speed gains Chrome users have received from SPDY -- pronounced "speedy" -- the latency-reducing protocol added to the browser in 2009.

Just two of the top 10 U.S. online properties support the SPDY protocol. (Data: comScore, Zoompf.)

SPDY is a Google-designed application-layer protocol, a modified version of HTTP, that promised faster and more secure page loading, with the faster speeds courtesy of multiplexing -- making the TCP connection more efficient -- and compression. For SPDY to work, both the browser and the website must support the protocol.

According to a trio of Google engineers -- Ilya Grigorik, Hasan Khalil and Roberto Peon -- the median speed boost from SPDY, compared to standard HTTP, ranged between 23% and 43% when they measured four of their company's core services: Google Drive, Google Maps, Google News and a vague "Google Sites," which includes its search page.

Google measured the Chrome 29 load times of "millions of real user sessions with various connectivity profiles," the three engineers said, then compared SPDY to HTTP. Chrome 29 shipped in August, but has since been supplanted by newer versions, including the current Chrome 31.

Google News gained the most benefit, with a median SPDY load time 43% faster than HTTP; the others' improvements clustered around the 25% mark. Not surprisingly, users with the slowest connections saw higher-than-the-median speed improvements.

Chrome is not the only browser that has adopted SPDY.

While Google first talked up SPDY in November 2009, when it started to bake it into Chrome, Mozilla added support for SPDY to Firefox 13 in June 2012. Opera Software and Microsoft jumped on the SPDY bandwagon this year, although the latter's IE11 supports the protocol only on Windows 8. The just released IE11 on Windows 7 does not support SPDY.

Apple's Safari is the sole browser of the top five that omits SPDY support.

Google's success in promoting SPDY -- and pushing it as the foundation of HTTP/2, the new protocol under discussion by the International Engineering Task Force (IETF) -- has been a win for the company, particularly its revenue driver, search. The faster pages load, Google believes, the more that people will access its services.

The problem, as with most new Web protocols, is getting websites to back SPDY: Not all support the protocol. Billy Hoffman, founder and CTO of website optimization firm Zoompf, has crafted an online tool that queries a user-designated website and reports whether it supports SPDY.

According to Hoffman's tool, only two of the top 10 U.S. online properties, as measured by comScore, support SPDY: google.com and facebook.com.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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