Google has announced an online platform for hosting web applications free of charge, in its biggest attack on Microsoft yet.
Remember Google Gears? Last year, around the end of May, there was a lot of buzz about Google’s secret new weapon. Google was on the verge of a major breakthrough, something that would revolutionize the web and bring in a new era of peace and prosperity. PC World went as far as to name it the most innovative product of the year as bloggers around the world collectively forgot how to breathe, eat and sleep.
Unfortunately – nearly a year later - Google’s little idea hasn’t gained much traction. Even PC World published a blog entry called, “The Frustratingly Unfulfilled Promise of Google Gears”. That doesn’t mean, however, that Gears is a complete dud. It still has potential and a lot of muscle in form of Google. The revolution may still be coming, albeit in a different form and later than expected. Indeed, Google recently announced its Docs product would, in the next few weeks, support Gears, so you can view and edit your documents offline, which is a step in the right direction.
Since Gears Google has been a little quiet. Amazon managed to generate and maintain a bit of buzz with its elastic compute cloud (EC2) and simple storage services (S3). All we heard from Google was talk about BigTable. The excitement began to disappear, the magic began to fade. But now Google and the buzz are back. A few hours ago, Google announced, “Google App Engine”.
Google explains: “Google App Engine lets you run your web applications on Google's infrastructure. App Engine applications are easy to build, easy to maintain, and easy to scale as your traffic and data storage needs grow. With App Engine, there are no servers to maintain: You just upload your application, and it's ready to serve your users.”
In other words, Google App Engine gives developers the ability to implement web applications, with access to Google’s datastore, users, URL fetch and mail APIs and run them reliably on Google’s own servers with load balancing, scaling and other issues taken care of automatically.
More so, right now, the “App Engine costs nothing to get started. Sign up for a free account, and you can develop and publish your application for the world to see, at no charge and with no obligation. A free account can use up to 500MB of persistent storage and enough CPU and bandwidth for about 5 million page views a month.” The free accounts will remain after the current preview period but people will also be able to buy extra computing resources.
App Engine uses a python runtime with access to most standard python runtime libraries. It also provides access to the Django application framework. Nevertheless, other programming languages are being considered by Google too.
Google wouldn’t be Google if it didn’t provide a few interesting examples to showcase its technology. The Google App Engine gallery is the place to have a look at what other people have come up with. Funnily enough a number of apps like Huddle Chat, ToDone and OnThaFly didn’t actually work when we tried them.
If App Engine is as simple, flexible and robust as Google claims – it will be popular. I'll be trying it over the coming months (an invitation has just dropped in my inbox) and will report back my findings. And, if Google finds a way to simplify and integrate Gears with the App Engine then it may pull off an even bigger win. But for now, let’s hope that App Engine goes the way of Gmail rather than Gears.