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10/29/2008
02:02 PM
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Google Continues Mad Scientist Act With Labs For Google Apps

In keeping with its preference for rapid-fire releases, Google unveiled a set of experimental features to encourage third-party developers to create enhancements for its productivity suite.

Google may be trying to position Google Apps as a reliable, secure business-oriented productivity suite, but it isn't willing to force its engineers to innovate at the slow and steady tempo preferred by corporate IT departments.

In keeping with its preference for rapid-fire releases, Google on Tuesday unveiled Labs for Google Apps, a set of experimental features to enhance Google Apps for businesses and schools.

"There is a widely held belief that technology progress in the enterprise is slow and methodical, that adoption cycles are long, and that experimentation is inappropriate," explained Gabe Cohen, Google Apps product manager, in a blog post. "Here at Google we believe that experimentation is a good thing -- even in the enterprise space."

Google has maintained Google Labs for several years as a testing ground for new search features and other services. About a year ago, it expanded the concept to Google Labs for Enterprise, a business-oriented version of Google Labs. In June, Google launched Gmail Labs to give users access to potential Gmail enhancements.

Labs for Google Apps may be syntactically different from its predecessors -- presumably "Google Apps Labs" sounded silly when said aloud -- but its goal is the same: to bring new features to users quickly, to generate user feedback and usage metrics, and to assure users that Google is actively engaged with improving its service.

Three new add-ons are available, built by Google engineers and hosted on Google App Engine, Google's platform for creating Web applications. There's Google Moderator, a system for managing online feedback, Google Code Reviews, a system for collaborative programming code reviews, and Google Short Links, a URL-aliasing scheme that allows users to replace complex URLs with simple ones.

Google is offering these add-ons through the Google Solutions Marketplace, an aggregation point for Google-oriented third-party software and services. It is encouraging third-party developers to build other useful services for Google Apps using Google App Engine.

"Today's launch is just the beginning, and we're going to introduce more useful apps into the Labs for Google Apps over time," said Google engineer Jens Scheffler in a blog post. "We also intend to eventually open up this platform to all App Engine developers, so that new and existing software vendors can build easy-to-consume software for the million-plus businesses using Google Apps today."

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