Monday, June 02, 2008

Google Joining Platform Wars

It seems to me that, based on the overwhelming success of its first-ever developer conference last week (named I/O at the Moscone center in San Francisco) - that Google is trying to make itself into much more than just a search engine.

There's been two main platforms for the average-joe developer (and ISV and corporate puke) - Java and/or .NET. Both have been around now for a while, and there are scads of developers trained and using both platforms in production of "real" software solutions.

But watch out for the new kid on the block - Google. He may be scrawny and not really interested in "languages" per-se - he's really a well-rounded, well-funded little guy with big dreams.

Google already has their hands in all kinds of things - from end-user productivity applications (Gmail, Docs, Maps, News, Shopping, Picasa, Reader, Talk, Google Earth, Google Health, Google Desktop), blogging tools (Blogger), web site analysis (Analytics), web development (Gears, Page Creator), social media (Orkut, YouTube, Friend Connect), and coming soon even a mobile OS (Android).

Tell me this is not a "platform."

Yet, I think there is a fly in the ointment: they're stuck in the browser. Now, before I get 1,000 flame emails, you KNOW that I'm all for browser-based apps. I like them, I use them.

BUT - it seems to me that Google is poised to really being pushing this notion of a "Web OS." This makes total sense from a business point-of-view. If you made all your money from selling advertising based on what people search for in a browser, then the more eyeballs you can entice, the more advertising you will sell - and the more money you will make.

Therefore, give people more interesting things to do on the web - and the more sticky it becomes, and the more likely people will trust the search results, and the more likely they will be to click on an ad.


Now - let's say that since you've been focusing your efforts on the browser. You've picked up a few things along the way (e.g. that whole AJAX thing) and really have influenced the state of web development (who doesn't do search engine optimization [SEO]?) - your natural tendency is - to borrow a phrase from Microsoft - "embrace and extend" the paradigm.

That's exactly what they're doing. All their applications - except Android (and Earth, Desktop, and Picasa - which they bought in 2003), are all tied to the browser in some way, shape or form.

In a sense, they're betting that sometime in the future, the browser will turn into a real application framework and not the hole-ridden, malware-spreading, basic text-rendering engine it is today.

While pushing the web as an OS - it's great that the underlying technology doesn't really matter (Amazon's EC2 makes it easy and cheap to scale to whatever level you want on any OS you want) - what will happen when all the world's business applications, and games and streaming media come inside such a container?

It will be an irresistible target to bad guys who can now do a lot more damage to a lot more people in a much more efficient way.

Desktop applications, platforms and languages are not dead. I don't think they ever will be. Oh sure, they'll change and morph into things that are better than what we have today- but the applications built on those languages will hopefully rely on something other than the humble browser (at least as we know it today) for delivering they gooey goodness.

When they do - you can bet that Microsoft Google will be right there to "embrace and extend."

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