Yahoo BrowserPlus Challenges Adobe Air, Google Gears

Yahoo offers a sneak preview of BrowserPlus-the company's new platform for improving Web-application development.

Amid speculation about its mysterious BrowserPlus platform, Yahoo May 27 released a sneak preview of the software for programmers.
Developed over the last year by Yahoo programmers, BrowserPlus is Yahoo's RIA (rich Internet application) for porting more desktop capabilities to Web applications.
Users may leverage BrowserPlus to drag and drop content from the desktop to Web sites; crop, rotate and filter images from the computer; enable easier file uploads; and receive native desktop notifications, wrote Yahoo's BrowserPlus team in a blog post May 27.
When it is released to developers this year, BrowserPlus will be gliding into a market for RIAs, where Google, Adobe and Microsoft are all vying for their share of developers to help build out dynamic new Web applications. Killer apps built from these platforms will attract the most users, leading to revenue opportunities for the vendors.
EWEEK looked into some of the key differences between BrowserPlus and Google's Gears (renamed Gears) and Adobe's AIR development platforms May 28.
BrowserPlus is designed to be run from the browser, while AIR lets users download Web-powered applications and run them on their desktop. Currently, AIR provides a complete runtime of APIs, analogous to an operating system or virtual runtime; BrowserPlus adds key services as they become available and necessary to extend the Web.
BrowserPlus also differentiates from Gears in the flexibility quotient because users grab Gears in one big download, while BrowserPlus calls Web services as Web pages need them. Gears also runs in the browser space, which can cause browser crashes. BrowserPlus runs mostly in its own process space to ensure more stability.
Yahoo told eWEEK BrowserPlus stands apart from both AIR and Gears in its ability to update and add new services without a browser restart or reloading the Web page. This means Yahoo can introduce a new set of features quickly without the speed bump of platform updates and jarring browser or system restarts.
BrowserPlus also touts its security, noting that Gears or AIR can't deactivate flawed services the way BrowserPlus can. Any BrowserPlus service can be restricted from use immediately by Yahoo if a security risk is exposed. Moreover, updates can be released and made available to users just as quickly.
Yahoo is offering a few demo applications, including a Flickr photo uploader, which mimics the features of the Flickr Uploader desktop client to create a tool for editing photos before saving them to the Web.
The other two include a browser-based IRC client and a programming tool to issue a JSONRequest proposal as a BrowserPlus service to enable secure cross-site JSON requests.
Yahoo said in its FAQ that it wants to put the platform in front of users to get feedback, but in the interest of ensuring Web security, BrowserPlus can only run on sites operated by Yahoo or its partners.
"Once we're confident that the system is safe for users when hosted on any site [even potentially malicious sites], and that users have all the proper controls over use of BrowserPlus on their computer, we'll open it up," Yahoo said.
Speaking of open, BrowserPlus is not quite open source like Google Gears, but the company said it is working on it, noting that it will never charge developers who use the platform, and will incrementally open the platform for developers.
BrowserPlus currently supports the following operating systems: Windows XP, Windows Vista, Mac OS X 10.4, Tiger (Intel only), Mac OS X 10.5, Leopard (Intel only). Browser support on the Mac includes Firefox 2 or greater, Safari 3 and Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox 2 or greater on Windows.
The BrowserPlus sneak preview is curiously timed-coming while Google is hosting its I/O developer conference in San Francisco this week.
At the show May 28, Google rechristened Google Gears "Gears" and added support for Firefox 3 and Safari in celebration of the one-year birthday of the platform.
Moreover, MySpace is launching enhanced functionality for MySpace mail using Gears. The social network is using the Gears Database API with Full Text Search to enable fast and easy search capabilities.