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Saturday, 05 June 2010 16:44

In Google's world all apps will be web based and portable, in real time

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In Google's vision of the future all apps will run in the cloud and be executed on computers with 'super browsers' - all conforming to the same open standards. But the vision goes beyond this to embrace the idea of application access and execution continuing as users move from device to device.

When Google announced last October that it was developing a browser-based PC operating system, Chrome OS, Wired reported the news under the headline "Ditch Your Hard Drives, the Future Is the Web."

That sums up precisely where Google sees the world heading, and it was a theme that was played with several variations at the recent Google I/O developers event in the US, and in Sydney at the I/O roundup hosted by Google for the local IT press.

In its main press release from Google I/O, Google said: "This year's I/O event is a recognition and celebration of the web's evolution into the software development platform of choice. It's also an opportunity for Google to share its work in moving the web forward and keeping it open. The web has become more powerful in more places - from enterprise deployments to mobile handsets."

Wired reported Google saying that Chrome OS - a Linux-based, open-source operating system centred on Google's Chrome browser - would, initially at least, only be available pre-installed on laptops from an unspecified vendor: laptops which would have no hard disc.

(Wired said in late May that Google was working with major netbook makers such as Acer, which it said was "hoping to ship a million Chrome OS netbooks this year." It quoted Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, saying they would cost (in the US) between $US300 and $US400, in line with devices running Windows).

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"All the applications will be web-based, meaning users won't have to install apps, manage updates or even backup their data," Wired said. "All data will be stored in the cloud, and users won't even have to bother with anti-virus software."

And it quoted Sundar Pichai, vice president of product management for Google, saying: "Every capability you want today, in the future it will be written as a web application."

The rise of web applications, as Google has been keen to point out, does not bode well for apps stores which, for Apple at least .have proved to be a real money spinner. However, there is another possibly that flows from everything being available as a web application, which has until now has not been so prominent.

This is what Google, at its Sydney briefing, called the "Continuity of Experience." According to Google, "What that means is that everywhere you go your data will be accessible, because it is on the web."

Super-smart browsers running on everything from cellphones to professional desktop systems access all their applications in the cloud will go a long way to making this possible.

In actual fact the vision goes well beyond that. It is no good having the data simply being accessible if you cannot extract from it the meaningful experience it is intended to convey (ie being able to access an online movie is not very useful if your access device can't display it). In the ideal world, the experience you gain from accessing that data should transition seamlessly from device to devices.

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When I asked Google Australia's head of engineering, Alan Noble, to elaborate on the idea of 'Continuity Of Experience', he said: "We believe the web is going to accelerate seamless and ubiquitous communications and as browsers become more capable things that would have only been possible in a desktop app become possible in a web application. Google Wave is a great example.

"The web will continue to accelerate and I think we sill see a lot of improvements. Judging by just how much the web has improved in the last few years, if you extrapolate forward the trend is pretty clear."

And a big factor in this transformation will be HTML5. In a recent interview with CIO Magazine (US) Opera Software co-founder, Jon von Tetzchner, said that HTML5 would make Web-based applications more competitive compared to native applications. The browser wasn't designed to build applications, but the introduction of HTML 5 would change that according to von Tetzchner. Developers, he said, would be will be able to add rich graphics and local storage, which would let programs based on Web standards work just like a native application.

This vision of whatever experience you having online transitioning as you move from one environment to another in which you use a different device is on that has been conjured up various telecoms equipment vendors over a good number of years (Motorola made a big thing about it at one point under the banner of "Seamless Mobility').

Just last month, it was Skype under the banner of "Liquid Communications' Here is what Dan Neary, Skype's Asia Pacific VP, said at a press conference in Sydney.

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"Increasingly we see communications evolving to become agnostic to networks and agnostic to devices. More and more you will want to communicate in different modes: you will want to have a meeting in your boardroom with people patched in from around the world, doing it with video. You need to be able to take that [interaction] back to your desktop, and on to your mobile and ultimately back to your home TV.

"That communication needs to flow across devices and across networks, and the key glue that brings all that together is software and that is where we see Skype playing. You want to be able to take your presence, your buddy list and your identity with you into different communication environments and to communicate in different modes: video, SMS, sending files. That is the concept that is shaping our strategy."

Google would certainly agree with the vision. And clearly software is they key. But where that software operates are poles apart in the Google and Skype visions. Skype is proprietary. It is a peer-to-peer technology that uses proprietary software on end user devices and with the web being primarily a means of distributing its software.

The Google vision is based on browsers and "browsers on steroids" like Chrome OS; all of which will be open and standards-based for which anyone will be able to write applications to run "in the cloud."

And it goes without saying that, in the Google vision the Google cloud will be the biggest cloud of all.

 

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