Independent software developers are Googles eager new soldiers, just as Google had hoped.
It appears Google got what it wanted in August after first letting developers graft their features onto Googles online goods. There are now hundreds tinkering away, according to various estimates.
Some developers take Googles mapping and directions facets to new places for both amusement (one developer shot a movie using Google Maps) and profit, as the growing coterie of eBay fanatics demonstrates.
And, as Google hoped, they are also coming up with features Google desperately needs, but cant seem to produce.
For example, Google has been tinkering with a day planner for months. It needs one to battle major business foes including Microsoft.
On March 3, it got scooped by oCalendar, which piggybacks Microsofts calendar feature onto Googles Sidebar desktop search engine.
"oCalendar is just small piece of software in order to improve your daily life," developer Ilya Solnyshkin wrote in an e-mail to eWEEK. "If it works for me, why not share it with other people?"
Google hasnt indicated the size of its active developer community, an important measure of its success. But there seems to be hundreds, judging by the numbers of developers downloading the necessary software tools at popular online buffets and by the spread of innovations found at the Google Desktop page as well as through a program Google runs for eBay developers.
The developers are producing hundreds, if not thousands of applications, judging various online sources.
While these numbers are decent, they pale in comparison to developers working with some of Googles major rivals.
But Google still benefits because it is a much cheaper alternative than doing the work themselves, and to some extent provides for a limitless number of ideas to spring up.
Theres a downside to relying on outsiders, though. The programming wont be as good as it could be. Thats by virtue of how little source code Google lets outsiders work with.
Plus, by doing most of the work, developers will take more of the revenues if, and when, Google begins selling features. Right now, all these so-called plug-ins are free.
"We [ensure that] the developer community can develop things they want that we might not have imagined," a Google spokesperson wrote after an inquiry by eWEEK.
"No software company would ever be able to think of or develop every single thing that every user could ever hope for."
This examination of Googles developers was sparked by recent questions concerning Googles future growth.
Googles had some hard times lately. After a disappointing financial quarter, Google Chief Financial Officer George Reyes predicted days to come when Googles growth would slow down due to "the law of gravity."
Then came Googles Analyst Day event, a sobering affair in which Googles leadership said features, free or otherwise, will play a big role in Googles hunt for new revenue sources.
Editors Note: This story was updated to include comment from a Google representative.