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Google I/O: Critical Developer Updates

Google has used its annual developer conference and exhibition in San Francisco this week to serve up a specially selected bunch of highlights, which include new versions of the Google App Engine and a selection of updates encompassing the Google Web Toolkit, Google Plugin for Eclipse, and Google Storage for Developers. Additionally, there is also the very interesting Prediction API and a new version of the Android operating system.

The Google App Engine now reaches a new version and senior product manager in this division Greg D’Alesandre has spoken volubly on current capabilities and future plans. Essentially, Google App Engine provides developers with the ability to develop and host applications on Google's infrastructure. Since it was first announced in 2008, Google says that more than 100,000 developers have now come to use it on a monthly basis.

App Engine delivers apps that dynamically scale with usage, without the need to manage hardware or software. As such, its popularity has meant that 200,000 active apps now exist that serve over 1.5 billion site views daily — but despite this, the technology has remained at preview status up until now.

"When App Engine graduates from preview status, which we expect it to do in the second half of this year, we'll add additional enterprise-grade features that allow us to support many more business application scenarios. Graduation from preview status also indicates a longer term commitment by Google to the product and provides a deprecation policy whereby we will support prior versions of product APIs for a guaranteed amount of time, allowing applications written to prior API specifications to continue to function," said D'Alesandre.

The week's exhibition saw Google move forward with what it likes to call its "business focus" with the release of App Engine 1.5.0, which includes Backends, improved Task Queues, and a new experimental Go runtime.

Backends technology is provided for both Python and Java. With it, Google App Engine can now support applications that require long-running and high-memory processes. Once again, this is a clear step towards the enterprise applications development space. This feature allows for new classes of applications, such as report generation apps and custom search engines, to be hosted on the platform.

Google spent some serious face-time (well, keynote PowerPoint presentation time at least) detailing the improvements to the Task Queue functions, which allows applications to control how tasks are executed and share workloads using the new REST-based APIs.

"This API access expands App Engine's compatibility with other on-premise and cloud services, furthering our commitment to an open development platform," says Google.

With Google App Engine 1.5.0 the company is also launching an experimental runtime for the Go Programming Language. Go is an open source, statically typed, compiled language with what is widely described as a "dynamic and lightweight" feel. It's also an interesting new option for App Engine because Go apps will be compiled to native code, making Go a good choice for more CPU-intensive tasks.

According to the official Google I/O blog, "As of this week, the App Engine SDK for Go is available for download, and we will soon enable deployment of Go apps into the App Engine infrastructure. If you're interested in starting early, sign up to be first through the door when we open it up to early testers."

The enterprise developer focus does not stop there. Google says that when it takes App Engine out of preview in the second half of this year, it will provide a 99.95% uptime service level agreement, operational and developer support, offline billing, and anew Terms of Service agreement geared towards businesses.

The company will also introduce a new pricing structure for App Engine based on more what has been termed "transparent" usage-based pricing. 
Google is announcing these features and pricing changes in advance so that customers have time to review them.

In theory, these developments work like this — adding business features will help App Engine meet a broader set of needs and the new, more transparent pricing model will help customers better align their App Engine investment with their business goals. Whether all of Google's strategy and execution will hold water in the long run is too early to say, but on the surface it does appear to be making prudent, positive, forward-looking moves.

… And in Other Google I/O News

The Google I/O show keynotes this year, typically quite practical demo-driven affairs, were initially focused (on day one at least) on the new Android "Ice Cream Sandwich" OS. intended to be more cross-device centric than any previous iteration. The company states that its goal with Ice Cream Sandwich was to deliver one operating system that works everywhere, regardless of device.

The Android team stole a lot of the show this year, especially on day one. The company's justification for this stage-hogging is that as recently as two and a half years ago, Android was just one device, launching in one country, on one carrier. Today (thanks to the developer ecosystem in no small part), the platform has grown exponentially to now boast the following:

  • 100 million activated Android devices
  • 400,000 new Android devices activated every day
  • 200,000 free and paid applications available in Android Market
  • 4.5 billion applications installed from Android Market

"From the beginning, Android was designed to extend beyond the mobile phone. With that in mind, we've developed Android Open Accessory to help developers start building new hardware accessories that will work across all Android devices," said Hugo Barra, product management director, Android.

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