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Wednesday, 18 June 2008 13:58

Google Sydney "Developer Day" about making the cloud more accessible to developers: Stocky

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Google’s second Australian “Developer Day” saw over 650 developers making the trek to Sydney’s “Wharf8” venue for a jam-packed day-long set of sessions for developers to devour. iTWire spoke to Tom Stocky, Google's director of product management, to get the latest Google goss!

Today was a busy day in Sydney! Not only was Gartner running its “Outsourcing & IT Services Summit” and Apple giving a sneak preview to the media of its first official store in the Southern Hemisphere (and thus Australia) before its opening tomorrow, it was also the day that Google put on its annual “Developer Day” for, well... developers.

No, Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer definitely made no appearances, and the monkey dance of “developers, developers, developers” was probably only in the minds of the mischievous (like myself).

Instead developers were treated to the latest and greatest from visiting and local big cheeses from Google to “celebrate a year of Australian accomplishments and innovations, learn about Google's newest developer tools and discuss the opportunities for Australian web developers to flourish on an open web.”

Tom Stocky, Google's director of product management, opened the day with a keynote that revolved around making “the cloud” more accessible to developers through things such as Google’s APIs, maps and more, making the “client”, or web browser, more accessible to developers and end-users, and about keeping connectivity to the web and online data pervasive through elements such as Google Gears and other Google tools.

After the main keynote, developer attendees were able to “move between a variety of breakout sessions and demonstrations by top Google engineers, covering some of Google's most recent innovations for developers” where new applications built by developers worldwide were showcase.

These included Google’s “OpenSocial”, a common API that makes it easier for developers to create social applications across multiple websites, and the “Android SDK”, Google's open mobile platform, which allows any developer to build applications that span across a variety of mobile devices, a variety of which hadn’t yet been publicly demonstrated in Sydney before.

Please read on to page 2.


Developer Day also covered a range of Google APIs, including the “Google Earth API”, which allows Google Earth functionality to be accessed in a browser and the “YouTube API”, which opens up a full range of YouTube functionality for web pages, software and devices.

Another API to be covered was the “Flash Maps API”, developed in Google’s engineering office in Sydney, which allows anyone to create enhanced applications for Maps using Flash.

Google Gears, which was unveiled to the world at the first Developer Day in Sydney 2007, was also discussed, being a product that brings offline functionality to the web that used to only exist for desktop apps.

Also covered were Google’s “Mapplets”, which are mini-applications developed in Sydney that allow developers to add new features or overlay data on Google Maps.

There was also the “Google Web Toolkit”, an open source framework for developers that makes it easier to build high-performance AJAX applications compatible with all browsers.

Finally, the “Google App Engine” was explored in more detail, being a new product that allows developers to easily build and scale applications by building them on top of Google's infrastructure.

Tom Stocky kicked off the proceedings with the keynote address, and we have a bit of a Q&A with him on page 3.

But before we get to that, Stocky said in a statement that: "The web has become the platform of choice for application developers. Instead of targeting proprietary platforms, developers can target the client they can be sure every user has -- the web browser.”

Stocky continued: “The web is based on open standards and open source software, and no single company controls it. It's when you take all of our contributions in aggregate that we're able to move the web forward as a platform”.

Please read on to page 3.


Alan Noble, Google's Head of Engineering for Australia and New Zealand said that: "Developer Day 2008 has showcased the tremendous potential for Australia and Australian developers.”

Noble continued "Developers and Googlers took hold of the notion that the web itself is truly the platform of the future: an open playing field where anyone can build innovative applications. Google is proud to provide tools that enable anyone in Australia to try new things online and shape the world’s growing web ecosystem.”

Google also announced a new competition called the “Global Code Jam”, for developers in Australia and worldwide.

Google says that the event “will see Australian coders have the opportunity to compete in Sydney for prizes and a chance to measure up against the best from around the globe at Google's headquarters in Mountain View”, with details listed here.

During the afternoon, we had the chance to talk to Tom Stocky, Google's director of product management, who helped us take stock of Google’s developer initiatives and break ‘em down into some of the important parts.

Stocky said that Google is “really interested in engaging with the developer community – improving the web platform, the open source platform and have global developers work with the developer team at Google”.

Initiatives such as Google Gears, the Google Web Toolkit and the Android platform, all of which have cost Google a lot of money to build – which Google has given away to the community, leads to an improving web platform, more apps and drives usage of the Internet, which Stocky said was clearly of importance to Google.

In a question on the progress with Google Gears and what progress had been made since its launch last year, Stocky said that a good example was MySpace using Google Gears to create a mail app that lets users search the messages they receive in MySpace, and that it had been great to see Gears being adopted by developers worldwide.

Please read on to page 4. 


I asked Stocky to explain the Google App Engine, which he explained had only been launched a few weeks ago. As an early stage product in a “preview release”, Stocky explained that for now, there are a few limitations and features yet to come, with Google looking forward to feedback so it can improve the Google App Engine.

In explaining what it is, Stocky said that it is trying to solve a specific problem which developers can face: essentially that of resources and the ability to scale.

Stocky said that entrepreneurial developers usually require significant upfront investments in computers, and then someone to configure the web server, SQL databases etc, with these being significant technical challenges, especially once you get popular, if you get popular.

Stocky said that if you get popular, you then need to scale your app – and the infrastructure around it, and all those system admin efforts can take a lot of time. Apparently 20% of engineering time is spent of system admin and maintenance – and for a 5 person start up, that’s effectively one person looking after all of that.

The Google App engine is designed to give you access to these scalable resources. Stocky said that you run your app in “Python” (a programming language), then quickly deploy it to Google’s servers, which are “easy to run and easy to scale.”

I forgot to ask what it would cost developers to run their web apps on the Google App Engine, so I called Google’s PR people back, and got the low down, which was the same as at the Google App Engine website.

In essence, it’s free, with some limitations. Google’s site says that the Engine “enables you to build web applications on the same scalable systems that power Google applications” and needs “no assembly” as it is a fully-integrated application environment
 
The site says that it’s “easy to build scalable applications that grow from one user to millions of users without infrastructure headaches” and is free to get started, with “every Google App Engine application [able to] use up to 500MB of persistent storage and enough bandwidth and CPU for 5 million monthly page views.”

As Stocky said, it’s currently a “preview release”, so applications are “restricted to the free account limits”, but anyone can try the Google Apple Engine without waiting for an account, so... pretty cool. Developers should go nuts!

I then asked if apps created in the Google App Engine would run on the iPhone – and I asked about another Google web app that already works on the iPhone and specifically asked about a problem that I was having with it, which it turned out Stocky was experiencing, too.

Please read on to page 5!


I asked Stocky if apps written to run within the Google App Engine would run on the iPhone, seeing as a) I have one and b) it’s not just the flavour of the month but seemingly the flavour of the 21st century from 2007 onwards so far.

Stocky said that he had one, too, and that the iPhone uses Safari, a browser based on the Webkit open source rendering engine, something that the Android platform’s browser is also built around.

Stocky said that he was seeing momentum around Webkit, and that the tools Google has, the Google Web Toolkit lets you compile to highly optimised javascript, which will run across all major browsers – including mobile devices. 

I also asked about a problem I was having with the web version of Gmail running on Safari, for which Google provides an iPhone optimised interface. The problem is that some emails come through with unchangeable text widths, which can’t be shrunken by using the ‘pinch’ multi-touch motion the iPhone is famous for.

I asked if this problem could be fixed, as changing Gmail to run in its ‘standard web interface’ on Safari actually did solve the problem, but that it was a pain to have to switch between interfaces – after all, I’d rather stay in the iPhone optimised interface rather than switch into and out of it all the time.

On top of that, I mentioned that I simply didn’t want to use the inbuilt iPhone mail application, much preferring the Gmail web app instead for a whole host of reasons.

Stocky said that he’d experienced the exact same problem, and had spoken to the Gmail developer team about it, and that they were working on it, but didn’t have a fix as yet. Stocky promised he’d follow them up on it as it was bugging him, too. Personally, I guess we’ll just have to wait for the Gmail dev team to deliver!

Anyway it was nice to be able to relay this issue to someone at Google who is in contact with that dev team, so hopefully something will happen on that front sooner rather than later!

I also asked for an update on Google Gears, and whether we’d ever see it applied to something like Gmail. The short answer was that we should in the future, but that Gears didn’t work with Gmail as yet.

Stocky did say that Google Gears does work with Google Docs, letting you have offline access to your documents and spreadsheets, and do things like edit them offline, like when you’re on a plane or simply don’t have a connection, although online-only features such as sharing were obviously not available in an offline environment.

I also asked if Google Gears would work with Safari on the iPhone. Stocky said that there was a test version that had worked with Safari on the PC, but there wasn’t an official Gears plug-in for the Safari platform on the PC, however there was one for Windows Mobile smartphones. Stocky said that he had nothing to announce at this point, but that Google would take Gears further into mobile platforms.

So, what might Stocky predict for Google Developer Day in 2009? Please read on to page 6.


I asked Stocky what he might predict for Google Developer Day in 2009. Stocky said that was a tough question to answer.

Stocky said that a lot of what makes developer products complex and interesting is being really responsive to what they come up with. What are the biggest and hardest problems for developers to solve, he asked?

Stocky said that the Google App Engine was a direct response to Google’s own developer challenges - even with their own great infrastructure.

With things such as web apps that can have flaky connections or can go offline and stop working – it’s “hard to anticipate what will be the next tools and products” and that “we will be responsive to what developers want.”

Stocky said that “Google is just one player, and that what makes this platform so unique is that it’s not owned by a single company. There’s no one company telling you what to do – it’s all of us that are collaborating and determining the future together.”

In asking about the Flash Maps API, I asked if there was any direct partnership with Adobe. Stocky said that the Flash Maps API team was based in Sydney, so he didn’t have complete visibility into the team, but that Google’s main focus was on AJAX programming and Javascript.

However Stocky said that Google understood that developers like to develop in a range of environments, like Flash or Flex with actionscript, and that’s why they created the API.

So then I asked if Google might do something similar with Microsoft’s Silverlight. Stocky said that the “AJAX API’s one is AJAX search API – there’s API’s for news, viode and Youtube, blog, web search results... also there’s a visualisation APUI, a feed API” and that Google had launched ‘REST’ versions of that.

Stocky said that “RESTful versions means you can access it from a Flash app, Silverlight, a server side app etc – we do try to be responsive to the fact developers might develop in a lot of apps”

Asking what REST and RESTful models were, Stocky said “the idea is kinda what the web is built on. Any API can be accessible though an HTTP request. In the URL I might have some query terms to be passed to the API” which can pass information back. He said that the RESTful modem is not tied to a specific platform, so it can be accessed by just about anything else.

I asked what format the data is in, was it XML, was in independent? The data could be XML but Google was using ATOMPub, which is similar to RSS, but instead of being a one-way mechanism as RSS is, ATOMPub is a two-way mechanism that lets you read and write data, update and delete it. 

An example might be of you, the user, making a booking with a travel site. If you have given that travel site permission, it could then send you the booking details – and automatically publish those dates for travel right into your calendar.

Please read on to page 7.


I then asked how many developers worldwide are using Google’s development tools.

Stocky explained that the number of developers is not a public statistic he could share, but he did say that across all the API’s, Google gets billions of requests per week – over a billion requests per day.

Stocky said that: “It’s been great to see that while previously there was a lot of talk about the platform wars, the platform that ended up winning was the open web. It’s been great to see the momentum build.”

I asked finally about OpenSocial and how that was going. Stocky said there’d been a tremendous response from almost all the major social networking sites such as MySpace, Yahoo, AOL, iGoogle, Bebo... and that in China, “a whole lot of the major sites in China have become part of open social”. He said that if an app developer uses the OpenSocial API, he or she has access to 300m users, which is a huge number.

At this point, I decide to stop asking Stocky questions, because it was clear to see that Google has a lot on its plate, and things are still growing enormously. There’s no end in sight, and Google has become a major web platform force in a short time.

A lot will happen between now and Google Developer Day 2009, and if you’re a developer wanting more information, visit Google’s developer site and see if any of it appeals to you. The next big web app could be yours!

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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