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Platform Play: Google Open Sources AJAX Toolkit

Google is releasing its Java software development framework, the Google Web Toolkit (GWT), as open-source software available under the Apache 2.0 open source license.

Launched in May 2006, the GWT is a framework for writing AJAX applicationa in Java. It includes a debugging browser and a Java-to-JavaScript compiler. The GWT Project's mission statement, according to tech lead Bruce Johnson, is: "To radically improve the Web experience for users by enabling developers to use existing Java tools to build no-compromise AJAX for any modern browser."

In a blog posting, Johnson wrote, "Since our primary mission is to help users (as opposed to hoarding proprietary development tools), opening up GWT has always been a no-brainer -- we just had to decide when. Now that GWT has some serious adoption and a lively user community, open-sourcing is the obvious next step to help GWT evolve more quickly."

Google plans to make the GWT development process "completely transparent" by conducting design discussions, feature prioritization, bug fixing, and roadmap planning in an open Google Group. The company even promises to post the notes from Google's internal GWT meetings.

Google isn't the first name that comes to mind when the discussion turns to application development. But this move makes sense to Forrester senior analyst Matthew Brown.

"In order for Google apps--Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Spreadsheets, Writerly--to be taken seriously by enterprises, the company needs to go out and win the hearts and minds of a lot of developers," Brown says. "The influence path frequently starts with the guy sitting there in his living room, programming away and falling in love with some set of tools and capabilities. That guy influences his IT manager or the architect he works for, and they influence whoever is next up the chain in the enterprise."

Brown says that the company is currently promoting use of its own productivity applications internally, and that all Google employees are expected to be using Google apps eventually. "That tells me that they're serious about this," he says.

Ismael Ghalimi, co-founder and CEO of open-source BPMS vendor Intalio, was one of the organizers of the Office 2.0 Conference, held in San Francisco earlier this year, which showcased applications like Google apps. He sees Google's open sourcing of the GWT as part of a unique platform play.

"To understand what Google is up to, you have to remember what their business is," Ghalimi says. "It is mainly to sell ads on the Web, and they're unbelievably good at it. The challenge to growing their business is all about real estate on the Web where they can put these ads. The donation of their development toolkit to the open-source community I think is part of their larger plan to build a platform on which people will build online applications. Down the road, I think they will find a way to monetize the use of that platform, either directly from the people who build the apps, but more likely indirectly from the people who use the apps."

"I've learned that you have to have an open mind when you look at this company," Brown adds. "Google is an innovation engine as much as it's a company that's trying to sell products. Not only are they very different from a traditional enterprise software company, they release their products very differently. This is an ongoing story. It's not a commercial off-the-shelf product. If they can continue to live in a world where they don't have to worry about making money on experiments, they could pose a threat in this market, long term."

The GWT 1.3 release candidate is available now for download from the Google Web Toolkit page.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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