Google I/O: The Web’s Wide Open for Developers

Google launched its largest and first paid-admission developer conference, Google I/O, yesterday in San Francisco with a 90-minute keynote session to show off a number of its web development products and initiatives. The message of the presentation, titled “Client, Connectivity, and the Cloud” and led by Google Engineering Vice President Vic Gundotra, was nothing new; much of it echoed O’Reilly’s “Web 2.0” conception,’s and BungeeLabs’ platform as a service (PaaS), and the Sun Microsystems corporate motto, “The Network Is the Computer.”

Gundotra explained Google’s high-level goal as moving the web forward by enabling web developers to:

  1. Access the cloud more easily (with Google App Engine);
  2. Leverage more power from the browser (with Google Web Toolkit); and
  3. Maintain pervasive connectivity in their applications (with Android and Gears).

Google App Engine
The PaaS pitch for developers was Google App Engine: Google will host their applications on its servers for free and charge only when the applications exceed either 500MB of persistent storage or the bandwidth and CPU necessary for 5 million monthly page views. Although the pricing model won’t be finalized until the end of the year and App Engine is still in preview, Google announced open signup for all interested developers. Developers need only sign up, develop the web applications on their local machines, and deploy them to Google. Launching the application then is just a matter of serving the application’s URL to your end users. However, the App Engine runtime environment currently uses only Python. Google is considering other languages and runtime configurations for future releases. So if you’re not a Python developer, you’ll have to learn the language or wait.

Google Web Toolkit
The announcement of the Google Web Toolkit 1.5 Release Candidate (GWT 1.5 RC) was Google’s effort to make the browser more powerful. GWT uses an optimizing cross-compiler to convert Java code input, written in the IDE of your choice, into compiled JavaScript output for target browsers (IE, Firefox, Opera, and Safari). GWT 1.5 RC adds full Java 5 language support—the most requested feature from GWT users, according to Bruce Johnson, Google’s GWT engineering manager.

During his demo, Johnson explained that when developers write an application directly in pure JavaScript, they’re responsible for optimizing and maintaining that code themselves.  But with GWT, developers write applications in maintainable Java code, and the cross-compiler produces the fastest JavaScript possible for that application—with no concessions to maintainability.

If you like the GWT functionality but code in C#, check out Script# as an alternative. 

Android and Gears
The Android and Gears demos filled the pervasive connectivity role. Android Engineering Director Steve Horowitz demonstrated the much-talked-about mobile development stack on a mobile device. The home screen featured the typical items you’d expect (e-mail, Internet, contacts, etc.), and Horowitz’s touch-screen navigation would’ve had more appeal if the iPhone hadn’t already been on the scene. But things got interesting when he pointed the WebKit browser to Google Maps. Horowitz set the device to Compass mode while viewing a Google Maps Street View of the San Francisco waterfront. Holding the device at arms length, he turned around 180 degrees in either direction and the Street View moved in relation to him, providing a sweep of the waterfront image. That trick drew applause.

MySpace’s Senior VP of Engineering, Allen Hurff, conducted the Gears demo. A browser plug-in, Gears (formerly Google Gears) uses a local server, database, and worker pool to enable users to interact with web applications while they’re offline. Hurff showed this capability by doing a full text search of his 300-plus MySpace Mail messages without calling back to the MySpace servers. Each search term he entered dynamically narrowed his messages to only the matching results, and the search was powered completely by his local machine.

The keynote’s message of “Client, Connectivity, and the Cloud” was nothing I hadn’t heard before. But what made it compelling was that it came from a child of the Web era (you could say the poster child—in the canon of web-based services alongside Amazon, eBay, and now MySpace). Google itself was born of open standards/open source software, the Internet as the platform, and the proverbial web company founder story: two computer whiz kids in their college dorm room with a brilliant idea and no money. What’s possible for those kids—and whiz grownups—today? Google believes it has the tools to help them find out.

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