Google Poised to Join Sun, Microsoft as Platform King

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-05-29 Print this article Print


If we take nothing else away from Google's I/O event beyond my colleague Darryl Taft's take that the event made the Moscone West an absolute nightmare for claustrophobes, we now know that Google cares about the developer.

Oh, Google never said it didn't care about the developer, but the search vendor used to lord internal search and advertising innovation over all.

Even when it began rolling out Gmail, Docs and other productivity apps, it just didn't embrace geeks with the same loving arms that, say, Sun Microsystems and Microsoft folks were known for. Sun touted its Java language and associated platforms. Microsoft coddled its .NET lovers, those who would worship at the temple of Windows.

This is why there's been key difference between traditional software vendors and Google. Google's MO has been to write stuff and slap it up on its site. If people use it great, if not, we'll keep on coding until something sticks.

Without a Java or a .NET, Google really hasn't staked a claim in the platform race. Well, things are starting to stick, thanks to platforms like Gears, Gadgets and Android.

What I/O showed was that Google is indeed a platform provider; its platform is the Internet. Google is providing more and more ways for programmers to leverage its software to improve the Web experience for users.

Take Google Gears. Now titled just Gears to reflect the platform's open-source nature, Gears is Google's browser platform for enabling offline access to Web docs. It's lighter than Adobe Air, but Google claims that is changing.

"Our broader goal has always been to close the gap between Web apps and native apps by giving the browser new capabilities. In its second year, Gears will begin to tackle some of these problems," wrote Google software engineer Chris Prince in this post.

To that end, the platform is now being leveraged by major companies, not just Google's engineers and solo programmers. Zoho has been using it to provide offline access to its apps for months, but now WordPress and MySpace have grabbed Gears.

The latest build of WordPress leverages Gears to let users manage their blogs offline. MySpace is using Gears to let users search their MySpace messages. The Gears solution returns the results in real-time as users type searches in.

When other companies start using your Web platform en masse, you are indeed a Web platform provider.

Google is also looking to be the premier social network without having a social network. The company created OpenSocial and later Friend Connect to lets programmers write widgets that extend users' social data to external Web sites.

Yahoo, MySpace and several other fringe social networks are supporting OpenSocial. Now AOL is onboard. AOL is adopting Google's Gadgets app framework on, eventually supporting OpenSocial "across our products and platforms."

"By using this single widget application framework, AOL will take a significant step toward becoming a more open service, making it easier for developers to leverage our APIs to enhance AOL products and services with creative new applications, and ultimately leading to a better experience for millions of users," wrote Eric Staats, principal software engineer for AOL.

Don't underestimate the potential scope of this move, given AOL's user base. Again, Google is proving itself a platform player, with Gadgets as the lynchpin for AOL. 

At I/O, Google also showed off its highly-touted Android mobile operating system stack. Google demonstrated touch-screen capabilities, compass features and games.

The company has made no secret that it would love to be the mobile platform of choice going forward as it seeks to make inroads in a market dominated by Nokia, Microsoft, Apple and others. Put Android on phones, pair it with Apps and sell ads against them. Ka-ching. Nice work if you can get it.

Make no mistake, Google has a ways to catch even a whiff of Sun's or Microsoft's platform power, but the company is on its way, thanks to the efforts of the Google engineers working to transform the Web.

I see one distinct advantage Google has that portends success. Microsoft and Sun had to groom their development base over time while making money from business software (and in Sun's case, servers).

Google, on the other hand, already has a supremely successful search ad business to fall back on. Google's Web developers, they admit, are insulated from this and can build Web platforms without worrying about money.

To have other units to worry about floating the company while Google's engineers program away is a luxury traditional vendors didn't have. Will this translate to faster, more effective and reliable product cycles? Time will tell, but Google is on the right path. |

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