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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Google App Engine Preview Release

There’s big and seemingly good news for web developers: Google released the Google App Engine. This invite-only service – you’ll be added to a waitlist if you sign up now – aims to bring the benefits of the Google infrastructure to all developers. It’s somewhat similar in spirit to Amazon’s “Elastic Compute Cloud” efforts; instead of managing your own servers and worrying about scaling, upgrading and traffic spikes, Google says with the App Engine, they’ll be “dynamically providing computing resources as they are needed,” and you just write the code. Google argues the App Engine “makes it easier to scale from one user to one million by taking advantage of Bigtable and other components of Google’s scalable infrastructure.”

Google App Engine programs are implemented using Python, Google says (a neat choice, I think; Python is an elegantly simple, and usually nice-to-read language). Note that Google’s programming environment you can download to your computer simulates the Google App Engine, but you need to install Python first. You can then also utilize components for authentication, sending emails, or fetching other URLs. Another component called “webapp,” along with the Django templating language, can be used as a wrapper to create web sites.

Here’s a video show-casing a “hello world” sample application created with the App Engine:

(A sample chat application as part of the Application Gallery is live as well, though it didn’t work for me.)

How much does it cost? Google says it’s free to get started “with no obligation” and that a free account “can use up to 500MB of persistent storage and enough CPU and bandwidth for about 5 million page views a month.”

And what’s in it for Google Inc? (Looking back to other now semi-canceled efforts, like the Google SOAP Search API, this is also interesting in terms of pondering the longevity of this service.) One goal for Google in the “near future,” as they say, is to offer a paid service once your cross certain scaling limits. Another goal may be to standardize web apps in their favor; using the Apps Engine, it’s only a small step to use the integrated libraries to switch to a Google Account for authentication for your site. And the more sites make use of the Google Account, the more powerful that account will become. Google writes:

Your application can allow a user to sign in with a Google account, and access the email address and displayable name associated with the account. Using Google Accounts lets the user start using your application faster, because the user may not need to create a new account. It also saves you the effort of implementing a user account system just for your application.

And who knows, maybe in future releases of the App Engine, using other services by Google – like their advertising framework – will also be made temptingly easy. Instead of just being one of the web’s most successful players, perhaps Google continues trying to manufacture the board game itself. A Google layer in-between HTTP and the end user, with the potential to “tax” activity on that layer with micro-payments (e.g. the Google Checkout service) or Google ads (e.g. the AdSense that come with the Google AJAX Search API).

[Thanks Colin Colehour!]


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