After months of closed testing, Google says it will offer Wave accounts to developers, early adopters and select Google Apps customers.
Google is planning a limited launch of the Google Wave messaging system, which the company first demonstrated at its developer conference back in May.
On Wednesday, the company said it will send out over 100,000 invitations to try out Google Wave to participants in the developer preview that began in June, to those who were among the first to sign up for the service, and to some Google Apps customers.
While the developer preview has taken place in a sandboxed environment, cut off from the rest of Google's services, the preview that's about to be launched will take place on wave.google.com and will be the instance of the service that eventually gets opened to the public.
In a blog post, Google engineering manager Lars Rasmussen and group product manager Stephanie Hannon caution that Wave remains a work in progress. "Since first unveiling the project back in May, we've focused almost exclusively on scalability, stability, speed and usability," they explain. "Yet, you will still experience the occasional downtime, a crash every now and then, part of the system being a bit sluggish and some of the user interface being, well, quirky."
Also, key features like a draft mode for writing posts and the ability to set user permissions, remove Wave participants or define groups have yet to be implemented.
Nonetheless, Rasmussen and Hannon remain enthusiastic about the system, noting that their blog post was the product of collaboration through Google Wave.
Google Wave is communication and collaboration system that aims to be "what e-mail might look like if it were invented today." It allows both real-time IM-style communication and asynchronous e-mail-style messaging.
Wave's problem, however, may be thriving in a world full of products that were invented yesterday, such as Microsoft Internet Explorer. As Rasmussen stated in a recent blog post, "[T]he many different versions of IE still in use -- each with its own set of CSS quirks and layout limitations -- further complicates building rich Web applications."
So to make Google Wave work well for Internet Explorer users -- about two-thirds of those using the Internet on computers -- Google last week released Google Chrome Frame, a way to run the company's Chrome browser inside Internet Explorer.
Even if the technical issues can be overcome, however, Google Wave faces a long courtship with users, who may not immediately grasp the scope of what's possible with the service. Wave is immensely extensible and flexible, and some of the early extensions that developers have created, like Ribbit's conference call gadget, only scratch the surface of what we're likely to see as this new mode of online communication evolves.
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