Google I/O Just five years ago, Vic Gundotra argued that web apps could never rival their desktop brethren. But that's when he worked for Microsoft. He works for Google now. And he sees things quite differently.
In 2004, Gundotra and his Microsoft team - responsible for driving developers to Windows - pointed to an application called Keyhole as a prime example of the sort of desktop goodness that could never be duplicated on the web. Then Google bought Keyhole, a Windows app that stitched satellite photos into a pan-and-zoom-able virtual landscape, and within months, it turned the app into a web service.
Gundotra jumped to Mountain View two years later, and today, he took the stage at Google's annual I/O developer conference to tell the world "the web has won." As Microsoft continues to pitch "software plus services," ex-Microsoftee Vic Gundotra wants you to know that's an also-ran.
"The web has won," the Google vp of engineering told over 4,000 developers this morning inside San Francisco's Moscone Center. "It has become the dominant programming model of our time."
Naturally, Google CEO Eric Schmidt agrees with him - though he calls it a progrumming model. Shades of Steve Jobs and Jagwyre.
"We have spent 20 years trying to build the progrumming model that's the right one," Schmidt said. "We started the mainframe model, then we moved to the PC model. It had brilliant parts and very frustrating parts, and then the internet arrived. Internet progrumming - the way we think about it now - is something we have worked on for all of our career. And it's time."
Well, it may be time. If you've used Google Docs and Spreadsheets, you know that the web has yet to win everything. But Google believes those still-evolving HTML5 standards will solve things tout de suite.
"This is the beginning of the real win of cloud computing, of the real win of applications, of the real win of the internet, which is changing the computing paradigm we all grew up with - so that it just works," Schmidt continued. "It works no matter what device you're using, no matter what operating system you're using, whatever operating system you're using - as long as you're connected."
But then he caught himself. "Even then, if you're offline, it works with some caching." Google has already released an HTML5 cache-happy version of Gmail that works with Android phones and Apple iPhones, and it's working on similar upgrades for other Google apps.
Gundotra complained that the developers waited years to exploit the automatic page-updating provided by XMLHttpRequest (XHR) and urged them not to make the same mistake with HTML5. The turning point for XHR was the debut of the original Gmail in 2004, he said. And he hopes the rest of the world will follow Google's lead once again.
During his keynote, Gundotra took a swipe at Microsoft - time and again - for dragging its feet on the use of HTML5 standards in Internet Explorer. He showed off several HTML5 tools that Google believes in - from the canvas tag, for richer graphics, and the video tag, for plug-in-free video, to web worker, for background processing - and he made a point of saying that all were supported by every major browser but IE.
"You can imagine how excited we were to hear Microsoft's public statement about their commitment to the HTML5 standard," he said. "And we eagerly await actually seeing evidence of that."
But after the keynote, during a briefing with reporters, one of his Google colleagues pointed out that some of these tags have yet to reach Google's own browser. Canvas is supported by the official release of Chrome 2.0, for instance, but the video tag is not.
"Various parts of HTML5 are in various stages of release in Chrome," said Google engineering director Matthew Papakipos, who works with the Chrome team. "And some of them are not released yet in any form." Of course, all are on the way.
After that, Gundotra couldn't help but cut his former employer some slack. "I think Microsoft has a lot of constraints, as the vendor with the browser that has the largest share," he said. "They have to worry about issue that some of us don't have to. They have a huge enterprise usage, and enterprises have specialized requirements. Updating these browsers could break enterprise apps."
Whatever Microsoft does, Eric Schmidt believes that Google's net development model will eventually save the planet - and everything else. "I'm one of those people who believes that computer science is at the center of the universe," Schmidt said. "I'm one of those people who believes that what we do as scientists, as progrummers, as people who care about making the work a better place, can really scale." ®
At the end of his keynote, Gundotra promised a major Google announcement tomorrow morning at the conference, something that he's chuffed to say "hasn't leaked out yet." We can safely say that whatever it is, it will change life as we know it - at least according to Google.