That was the clear message today at the company’s annual developer conference in San Francisco, which attracted 4,000 people.
The focus of Google’s pitch: HTML5, the next version of the internet markup language, which should exploit more of the capabilities in browsers to produce richer applications and experiences. Among the things Google showed off today were 3D graphics running inside a browser, a way to parcel out computing resources more efficiently so that browsers can handle much heavier workloads, and tools to make browser-based apps continue to function even when offline.
In principle, HTML5 – a set of standards to be agreed by W3C - is still years away from completion.
But in practice, some of the core capabilities are already available in a number of the most advanced browsers. Google’s mission: to persuade developers to start harnessing these now.
Vic Gundotra, the company’s vice president of engineering, likened it to the launch of Gmail in 2004. That was a key moment in the Web 2.0 movement, awakening other developers to new capabilities (like CSS) that had been added to browsers but had generally lain dormant. The AJAX revolution had arrived.
According to Gundotra a new set of capabilities is now available for browser-based apps, and it’s time to move beyond Web 2.0.
That is only partly true, however. Gmail succeeded because it tapped into technologies already embedded in the dominant browser of the day – Internet Explorer. As yet, though, IE does not support the features of HTML5 highlighted by Google today, even if the latest versions of four other browsers – Firefox, Safari, Chrome and Opera – do.
Mozilla and Palm were on hand to show off some of the ways they are already exploiting this technology. Tim O’Reilly described it as “a big whack upside the head” for developers who, like him, had thought HTML5 was years away.
But until IE catches up, mass adoption is unlikely.
European regulators, who have had their own eye on the browser market, have stopped short of trying to force Microsoft to adopt open standards in its technology, a solution that some have pushed for. That would have been almost impossible to regulate – and anyway, as the HTML5 example shows, new technologies can often start to have an impact years before they become formal standards.
Google’s rallying cry to developers is a reminder, however, of how much is at stake in making the browser market more competitive. Given how close the European Commission is to imposing new regulations on Microsoft, the timing is surely not coincidental.