Way back in 2004, we started asking when
Google was going to become "the web platform," finally opening up its infrastructure to build out new and useful applications. It seemed obvious at the time that the next real battle was going to be in that space, but time and time again, Google has missed opportunities
to do so, opening up a window of opportunity for other players. Surprisingly, the closest to realizing the vision has been Amazon.com
with its Amazon Web Services offerings -- which was something no one would have expected back in 2004. Back then, the questions were more about Microsoft, Yahoo and Google. Microsoft, however, can't seem to get past its desktop software DNA (though, it talks a good game) and Yahoo! (typical Yahoo!) has bits and pieces here and there but can't seem to pull together a comprehensive
web platform strategy. For a brief period of time, it looked like Facebook might
become a true web platform, but it's been too focused on locking apps in
rather than enabling outbound efforts.
So, now, finally, nearly four years later, Google has come to its senses and announced its entrance into the web platform space
with its aptly named AppEngine
offering. In many ways, it's similar to Amazon's offering (which is a good thing!), though much more integrated, which could prove to be either a problem or a benefit depending on what you want to do. Amazon allows for a much more a la carte setup, which could appeal to many, while you have to really embrace Google to enjoy the benefits of its setup. A big open question is pricing. A huge part of the appeal to Amazon's Web Services platform is that it's crazy cheap. You really have to be working it quite hard to build up any sort of significant charges. Google hasn't released info on pricing yet, offering AppEngine up for free to the first 10,000 developers (who appear to have snapped up all the open slots in less than two hours). That free service has some limitations: initially 500 MBs of storage and enough bandwidth to serve approximately 5 million pages per month. There's some suggestion that the final service will always be free up to that level, with charges starting if you go beyond that. If so, that could certainly appeal to people who just want to try some stuff out for free.
While this may seem like something that will only appeal to serious techheads, this could be a really big deal. A lot is going to depend on how well AppEngine really works, and how open it really turns out to be. However, if it really does provide another super cheap (or even free at low levels) full service, highly scalable platform for all different kinds of applications, things could start to get very interesting pretty quickly. Between this and Amazon's Web Services, the very concept of developing online applications may finally start to change in significant ways for the better. The easier it is to develop and deploy highly scalable web applications, the more innovative and creative solutions we're going to start to see.