Google Goes Offline With 'Gears'

Flanked by partners, Google offers new APIs and focuses on its plans to move further into Microsoft's desktop space.
This is really the beginning of a new era for Google as the company moves beyond being a search engine, beyond being an advertising platform, to become an information ecosystem that's increasingly hard to distinguish from the Internet. Search engines and ad platforms can be avoided, but Google, as the supplier of ever more data, has almost become essential. And it may well become so as Google Gears erases the boundary between the desktop and the Web.

Google's emerging ecosystem arises not just from Google Gears, but from many other Google APIs: the Maps API, Ajax Search and Ajax Feed APIs, AdWords and AdSense APIs, the Google Base Data API, the GData API, and the Google Calendar Data API, to name a few. These schemes for accessing Google data and services help developers help themselves while making computing without Google increasingly awkward.

Google's ecosystem works because open source software and open standards have become the only viable approach to the networked world. "Nowadays when you're writing an application, you're not writing every line of code of every piece of infrastructure yourself," said Bret Taylor, group product manager for developer products. "At the bottom layer, you might have a bunch of open source building blocks, like the Linux operating system, the Apache Web server, and the MySQL database. And then on top of that, you might be able to reuse components in the form of Web services to make up the core features of your product, the Google Maps API or perhaps Picasa Web album integration or Amazon S3 for storage. Maybe you want to use Yahoo Pipes to consume some external feed. Then really what you're focusing on is writing the code about what your application specifically is designed to do. And a lot of the infrastructure and services are reused. When we think about our developer programs, we really do think about openness and the standards-based building blocks approach."

Google already touches everyone online through its contributions to open source software. Its code can be found in the Linux kernel, the Apache Web server, and the MySQL database, to say nothing of its contributions to computing clusters and search. But it has only been in the past few years, as Google and the Web have become more closely intertwined, that Google has ramped up its developer outreach.

Taylor said Google dabbled in developer products early on, but 2005 was the year the company found its developer identity, largely because of the Google Maps API.

Launched at the Where 2.0 Conference in 2005, the Google Maps API "has played a big part in the rejuvenation of interest in Ajax and Web development and it has also played a big part in the proliferation of mashups," said Taylor. "When you say the word 'mashup,' it evokes a Google Map in a lot of developers' minds."

People may still be able to separate the Internet from Google, but Google's development efforts are aimed at improving both. The release of Google Web Toolkit (GWT) 1.4 Release Candidate on Wednesday offers just that sort of support. GWT is an open source Java development framework that lets developers write Ajax apps in Java, and then translate them into browser-compliant JavaScript and HTML. "The big selling point is you only write your code once, and our fancy compiler translates into JavaScript and HTML that works in Opera, IE, Firefox, Safari, automatically," said Taylor.

Google is expecting about 5,000 developers worldwide to attend Google Developer Day 2007. Compared with Microsoft's developer community, which includes more than a million professional developers using Visual Studio 2005, that doesn't seem like much. But everyone working on open source Web applications is working for Google. And with Gears, desktop applications become Web applications, too.

"At the end of the day, really, what's good for the Web is what's good for Google because all those sites show up in our search results, they run AdSense, they use Google APIs," said Taylor. "And so we really want to support Web development as a whole to make sure that ecosystem remains really, really healthy."