August 26, 2005 4:00 AM PDT
Google aims for Web developers' hearts and minds
Earlier this week, Google introduced Google Talk instant messenger and an upgrade to Google Desktop Search, which adds a product called Sidebar that pulls data from the Net and serves up a personalized panel of information such as e-mail, stock quotes and news.
Both offerings, notably Sidebar, have the potential to lure away current Microsoft users, analysts said. But Google--in a technique perfected long ago at Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., headquarters--has made software developers an important target audience as well. As with nearly all its services, Google is supporting standards and providing hooks intended to let outside developers create add-on products.
Google's latest services underscore the company's efforts to create a platform on which to build add-on products and services.
The Internet company is appealing to third-party developers, much the way Microsoft has done with Windows for years. But Google's platform is oriented toward its online services.
Of course, the ever-widening array of Google products has some people wondering whether the company is out to create the rough equivalent of an operating system. Strictly speaking, Google's products are not a replacement OS, but the collection of tools released thus far serve the same purpose, said analysts. Even products that run on Windows PCs, such as Google's Picasa photo-editing software, could tie back to Google's online services.
"It doesn't seem like they have to deliver an operating system or a browser. They're doing a pretty good job of co-opting what Microsoft has done and putting Google stickers on it," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Jupiter Research.
But longtime Microsoft watchers believe it wasn't just the OS that made Microsoft the most profitable company on the planet. The software titan's vaunted developer-outreach network created a rich "ecosystem" of applications that run on Windows and Office, its desktop application suite, driving adoption of the company's core products.
Some say that's exactly what Google is now trying to re-create on the Web.
Google-eyed over APIs
Nearly all of Google's services are accessible via application programming interfaces, or APIs, which give software developers the documentation needed to build add-on products. For example, the Google Maps API has spawned a cottage industry of creative "mashups" that let people combine information from a source such as apartment listings, and plot that information on a map.
As it has with earlier services, Google supports industry standards in its latest offerings, and it also exposes the functions of its services to outside developers and encourages independent developers and software companies to build clever add-ons.
Rather than create a fenced-off instant messaging client, for example, the search giant released Google Talk, which supports the Jabber standard. That means several different clients, including ones not made by Google, can tap into the service.
In the case of Google Desktop Search, the company has released a number of plug-ins to the Sidebar tool, along with a developer mailing forum, as a way to seed the market. For example, Sidebar users can already replace the standard clock thanks to a Google-made plug-in.
Google declined comment for this story. (Google representatives have instituted a policy of not talking with CNET News.com reporters until
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