Web Apps

Google Sets Its Sights on Web App Domination

In a demonstration of its efforts to bridge the chasm between Web-based applications and client, or native, applications, Google announced changes to its Google Earth 3-D mapping software as well as Google Gears Wednesday at its annual I/O software developer’s conference in San Francisco.

For webmasters, Google launched its new Google Earth Browser Plug-In, which can be embedded within a Web site. The Internet search provider also unveiled a name change, among other things — from “Google Gears” to simply “Gears” — for its set of offline software development tools.

The new appellation is intended to underscore the company’s belief that Gears is community-driven project, according to Vic Gundotra, vice president of engineering, mobile and developer divisions at Google.

During his keynote address, Gundotra reportedly told the audience that the company wants to accelerate the capability of the browser.

Mapping the Browser

With the Google Earth API (application programming interface) browser plug-in, Google has taken an app that once required a download to a user’s PC and made it available through a Web browser. The API enables Web developers to embed the 3-D mapping application into their Web pages in the same way that they have been able to use the Google Maps API.

More than 150,000 sites have developed applications using the Google Maps API, while the Google Earth client has logged more than 400 million downloads. Releasing the Google Earth API, according to Google, is a demonstration of its belief in the “value of being open.” The hope is that developers will use the API to “build the next great geo-based 3-D application.”

Developers can embed Google Earth inside any Web page using a few lines of code, and an extensive JavaScript API allows developers to control the camera and create lines, markers and polygons. It also enables webmasters to import 3-D models from the Web and overlay them anywhere on the planet, Paul Rademacher, technical lead of the Google Earth Browser Plug-in, wrote in a LatLong Blog post.

“In fact, you can even overlay your content over different planets, stars and galaxies by toggling Sky mode, letting you build 3-D Google Sky mashups. You can also enable 3-D buildings with a single line of JavaScript, attach JavaScript callbacks to mouse events, fetch KML (keyhole markup language) data from the Web and more,” he continued.

There’s a lot of opportunity on the way for geo-based advertising, according to Karsten Weide, an IDC analyst.

“Google Earth is an awesome application that is well-positioned to make money out of geo ads. However, the fact that Google Earth was client-based greatly depressed audience reach and traffic, both of which are problems for ad sales,” he told TechNewsWorld.

Integrating Google Earth into Web browsers corrects that problem but does not guarantee successful ad sales, Weide pointed out.

“That still doesn’t mean that Google will be better able to sell ads on Google Earth than it currently is. So sales need to be fixed, too,” he added.

Gearing Up

On the one-year anniversary of Google Gears (now just “Gears), the search company gave a peek at its plans for the open source project in the coming year.

The first year concentrated on offline-enabled applications. However, in its quest to bring Web apps to the fore and “close the gap between Web apps and native apps” the company said it would spend its second year trying to solve some of the issues surrounding Web applications.

To make Gears available to everyone, Google said that it is adding support for Firefox 3 and Safari to its support for Internet Explorer and earlier versions of Firefox. Opera is also working to support Gears on the desktop and mobile devices.

Speaking of Gears applications, MySpace announced the launch of improved functionality for its e-mail application, using the original Gears Database API with Full Text Search. MySpace says its new mail app makes searching and sorting faster and easier.

Gonna Be a Rumble

With the Google Earth API and Gears’ expanded mission, the stage is set for a battle over Web 2.0 applications between Microsoft, Google and any other players that come along.

“It’s as clear as day what’s going on here. Microsoft is coming from their wheelhouse and moving upstream. Google’s coming from their wheelhouse and moving downstream. There’s going to be an inevitable clash in the middle. There’s room for both; it is not a zero-sum game,” said Jonathan Edwards, a Yankee Group analyst.

“The writing’s on the wall that at some point when Web applications become as rich as client applications that users don’t want to keep flipping back and forth. We see this coming down the road and these are just steps along the way,” he told TechNewsWorld.

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