Google’s advantages over Microsoft in leveraging the Internet to make money and attract users are well documented, but there is one area Google isn’t playing in where Microsoft seems to have Google beaten: rich media applications.
Microsoft March 5 took its Silverlight rich Web app into its second beta. High-tech media and analysts love to position Silverlight as an alternative to Adobe’s Flash technology, found on 98 percent of browsers worldwide.
If Microsoft could corral just a slice of the market Flash commands in this age of AJAX and rich Web apps, it would stand to make some serious cash in the Internet economy that Google aims to rule.
Google, art thou lost at sea? Is there a rich Web application in the works, perhaps code-named Gash or Googlelight? Or do you deal for Adobe to corner the market in one fell swoop?
A Google spokesperson provided eWEEK with its stock answer to questions about future plans, noting that its mission is to make all the world’s information universally accessible. “We are constantly innovating to continue to deliver on our mission, but we have nothing specific to announce at this time.”
The lack of an outright denial is conspicuous, suggesting that the search and applications maker has something up its sleeve. eWEEK polled some experts who follow the rich Web app space.
Gartner analyst Ray Valdes told eWEEK Google has purchased companies in image processing and graphics that could provide rich Web app capabilities.
For example, Google acquired Keyhole as the foundation for Google Earth, later adding SketchUp for 3-D modeling. The company also nabbed photo mapping provider Panoramio and graphic visualization tool Gapminder.
These technologies and the engineers associated with them, coupled with Google’s close ties to the Firefox browser community, give Google the means to create a Silverlight killer.
Valdes said Microsoft created Silverlight as a lightweight alternative to its own Windows Presentation Foundation, which he said has been a tough swallow for many enterprises. His point is that Google should strike now while Microsoft scrambles to bring Silverlight to market.
“If they are at all on the ball, they’re not going to let a competitor gain an advantage here unnecessarily,” Valdes said. “You could even make the case that if they don’t respond, heads should roll later.”
Forrester Research analyst Jeffrey Hammond told eWEEK that while he’s seen no evidence Google is preparing an answer to Silverlight, he wouldn’t bet against it.
Google to Buy Adobe?
On the flip side of the coin, he said Google is already making some pretty significant investments in AJAX with Google Web Toolkit and Google Gears. With Android, they also set up a mobile platform which could use their existing AJAX assets as well, he said.
Hammond also noted Google would be challenged on how to get broad distribution of a player to compete with Flash, which is what Microsoft is wrestling with now.
“The obvious answer would be through YouTube, so that’s where I’d keep a close watch,” Hammond said. “Since they just went through the process of re-encoding media into H.264 to support the iPhone, they could in theory create an H.264 compatible player without screwing that deal up.”
IDC’s Melissa Webster threw some cold water on this theory, noting that Google doesn’t need to have its own technology to improve playback and user experience. “They can use Adobe’s stuff [player if they need one at some point; streaming servers if they decide to do real streaming; online editing tools; etc.],” Webster told eWEEK.
Sasha Kouznetsov, founder and president of Web presentation software maker, Spresent, also doubted Google’s entry into the market, noting that Google would be more likely to endorse the open-source SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) foundation technology.
Hammond said Google could be just as likely to buy Adobe.
“Why build your own when you can buy something that’s ubiquitous in the market already?” Hammond said.
Valdes said he’s been thinking about that possibility for awhile, noting that Adobe is a midsize company competing with heavyweights and that Microsoft long ago set the Flash proprietor in its sights. A Google-Adobe union would give Google rich Web app market share and allow Adobe to grow its business.
Webster doused this theory, saying that Google doesn’t need to buy Adobe to accomplish what it wants with rich interaction. She added that the packaged software biz that is Adobe’s mainstay would be a distraction for Google.
Whether Google pulls the trigger on Adobe or not is anyone’s guess, but Hammond noted that it would be an interesting response to Microsoft’s impending purchase of Yahoo.
That much is certain.