Category Archives: Web

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Google+, Bing social search, and internet monopolies

The big new thing in social media right now is Google+, the search giant’s latest attempt to grab a slice of the social internet from Facebook and Twitter.  I have been trying it for a few days and like everyone else have enjoyed playing with circles, the ability to categorise contacts into groups and choose who you sharing with. I like that it addresses a core issue, the fact that we want to share different things with different people, but dislike the added complexity. In practice, if I have a personal message I am likely to use email or some other form of direct messaging, whereas what I post on a social networking site I will likely address to everyone.

Still, Google+ is a decent effort, and irrespective of how it compares in detail to its rivals, I think it may take off simply because Google has other properties, specifically Google search and Google Android, which will point you to it.

The value of social networks to a search company was highlighted this week, not by Google but by Microsoft at its Worldwide Partner Conference. The opening keynote was short on big news, but did include a demo of new features in Bing, that other search engine.

Stefan Weitz Director of Influentials, showed how Bing can interact with Facebook so that you search results are annotated with the preferences of your friends. Here, Weitz has searched for “Mango” and Bing shows a section of results marked as Liked by your Facebook friends:

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He then searches for Hawaii hotels for kids and sees this:

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Once again, he sees two of his own contacts who have Liked a specific web site. He can go to the site with more confidence, or even click the name to interact directly with his contact and find out more.

This is powerful stuff, though the examples are contrived, and this is only going to work if you and your contacts do many of the same searches with the same search engine. The Microsoft/Facebook alliance has an advantage over Google in that Facebook has a bigger and more mature social graph; but Google has the advantage of a far larger search share, especially outside the USA. On this site, for example, here are the figures for July:

  • Google 90%
  • Bing 3.7%
  • Yahoo! 3.4%

You can figure out how much that leaves for “Other”.

Another Bing move also merits reflection. Weitz went on to demonstrate how Bing wants to you to do the transaction as well as the search on its portal. It is actually fine for Bing to do this with its small market share; but I am not sure that I like the implications for search in general.

This hints at my central concern, which is monopoly. One reason I like Twitter is that I have no sense that Twitter wants to take over my digital life. I know Google does; it wants my searches, my email, my documents, my music, my location, and now my friends.

I know Facebook wants a big slice of it too; it wants me to live inside its walled garden.

These thoughts chime for me with another incident from the last few days. I posted something  for sale on eBay, the dominant online auction site, and found that it has notched up its terms and conditions with me further in its own favour by insisting that I set up automatic payment of its fees before it would allow me to post the item. It also happens that PayPal, owned by eBay, has recently sent me a notice advising that it is restricting the number of sales that can be funded by credit card, I presume because it dislikes the consumer protection gained by buying by credit card.

The connection here is that eBay and PayPal only have the liberty to make these unilateral changes in their terms because of lack of competition. Yes, there are other online markets; but if you actually want to sell stuff, there is little real-world choice. Well, there is Amazon; and there is another organisation which, for all its many merits, is constantly extending its reach.

It is curious in a way, that when the web first appeared it seemed to be a great opportunity for the little guys – because on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog – but what we are now seeing is that winner-takes-all applies to a degree which goes beyond anything in the bricks and mortar world.

Google Plus demands your location on iPhone, iPad and mobile devices – but you still have control

Last week I signed up for Google + (you can find me here), and one of first things I tried was to sign in on an Apple iPad.

I was annoyed to see the following message:

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Google demanded the right to use my location with Google Plus, otherwise it would not let me sign in. But what if you want to use Google Plus without sharing your location with the world? Since Google Plus works fine on desktop PCs without location information, why should you not use it on an iPad in the same way?

This led me to investigate the W3C Geolocation API. In fact, I wrote my own web page to test how it works. I went over to Bing Maps, signed up for a developer account, and wrote a small amount of JavaScript to test it. You can try it here if you have a reasonably modern browser. I have not bothered to test for older browsers that do not support geolocation.

You will notice a couple of things about this test page. One is that it will ask your consent before attempting to retrieve your location. Another is that on a home broadband connection, it is rather inaccurate. According to Internet Explorer 9 I am in Berkhamsted – do not try and visit me there though, I am nowhere near.

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However, if you try this on an iPad or other mobile device, you will likely get much better results. If I use the iPad, even on home wifi, it shows my house dead centre of the map.

That is only if you give consent though. Since Google + is a web application, this consent is determined by Safari, irrespective of what terms and conditions you agreed with Google. If it bothers you, you can even go to settings – location services and disable them for Safari completely:

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That said, Google could add some code that tried to retrieve your location and would not let you use Google+ if access is denied – but it has not done so. In fact, so far the only time I have seen Safari prompt for consent in Google+ is when making a post:

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If you agree, this allows Google+ to geotag your post.

I am sure there are other ways Google plans to use your location in Google+. For the moment though, if you would rather maintain location privacy Google+ still allows you do to do so.

RESTful and modernised: making sense of Adobe’s new Enterprise platform

Adobe has announced its Digital Enterprise Platform for Customer Experience Management. My tip to Adobe: that is too many words with too many syllables for busy IT people who are trying to get their work done. What on earth is it? The same old stuff repackaged, or something genuinely new?

The answer is a bit of each. Adobe has made several big acquisitions over the last few years, starting with the Macromedia merger in 2005 that really formed a new Adobe, bringing together digital publishing and the Flash platform. In September 2009 Adobe acquires Omniture for web analytics, and in October 2010 Day Software. This last one seems to be having a huge impact. Day’s product is called CQ5 Web Content Management and is built on CRX, a content repository which conforms to JCR 2.0 (Java Technology API 2.0), a Java API. Here’s Roy Fielding, formerly at Day and now Principal Scientist at Adobe, from this white paper [pdf]:

The Content Repository API for Java Technology (JCR) is poised to revolutionize the development of J2SE/J2EETM applications in the same way that the Web has revolutionized the development of network-based applications. JCR’s interface designers have followed the guiding principles of the Web to simplify the interactions between an application and its content repository, thus replacing many application-specific or storage-specific interfaces with a single, generic API for content repository manipulation.

JCR is a boon for application developers. Its multipurpose nature and agnostic content model encourages reuse of the same code for many different applications, reducing both the effort spent on development per application and the number of interfaces that must be learned along the way. Its clean separation between content manipulation and storage management allows the repository implementation to be chosen based on the actual performance characteristics of the application rather than some potential characteristics that were imagined early in the application design. JCR enables developers to build full-featured applications based on open source implementations of a repository while maintaining compatibility with the proprietary repositories that are the mainstay of large data centers.

Adobe already has an application platform based on LiveCycle Enterprise Suite, which you will notice now redirects to the Digital Enterprise Platform. Ben Watson, Adobe’s Principal Customer Experience Strategist, explained it to me like this:

The core of the platform now becomes the repository that we got from the Day acquisition. We are also following their leadership around the use of RESTful technology, so changing how we do our web services implementation, how we do our real time data integration into Flash using data services. There’s really four technologies at play here. There’s CQ5, Adobe LiveCycle which is all the business process management on the back end, the online marketing suite with Omniture, and Creative tools which allow to both design and develop all of this content and assets … We had two Java platforms and we brought them into one.

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You can read up on the Digital Enterprise Platform here or see a chart of capabilities here. Much of it does look like rebranding of existing LiveCycle modules; but as a statement of direction it is an interesting one.

Is this for on-premise deployment, or cloud hosted? Adobe has a tie-up with Amazon for hosted deployment, though there is no no multi-tenant hosting from Adobe yet; I got the impression from Watson that it is being worked on.

Adobe is aware that it does not stand alone, and there are several connectors and integration points for third-party applications, such as a SAP data services connector.

Adobe also has a series of “solutions”, which are permutations of web content management, analytics, document processing, social media and so on.  There is also a Unified Workspace, currently in beta, which is a dashboard application.

The company’s line is that it is well placed to address the challenge of the mobile revolution, and to bring greater usability and social interaction to business applications, the consumerization of IT.

Although that sounds a strong pitch, melding all this together into something new while keeping hold of existing developers and designers is a challenge. Another issue for Adobe is that the company’s strong presence in design, multimedia and marketing makes it hard to appeal to more general enterprise developers. Nevertheless, the combination of Fielding’s influence and Adobe’s strength in design, documents and cross-platform clients makes this a platform worth watching.

Cross-platform concerns as Adobe abandons AIR for Linux

Adobe is giving up on AIR for Linux – at least, in a fully supported manner:

To support the variety of Linux-based platforms across PCs and devices, we are prioritizing a Linux porting kit for AIR (including source code), which Open Screen Project (OSP) partners can use to complete implementations of AIR for Linux-based platforms on PCs, mobile devices, TVs and TV-connected devices. We will no longer be releasing our own versions of Adobe AIR and the AIR SDK for desktop Linux, but expect that one or more of our partners will do so. The last Adobe release of AIR for desktop Linux is AIR 2.6.

This is a curious message. OSP partners include ARM, Intel, the BBC, Google, Toshiba and other big names; but which of these might build an AIR SDK and on what sort of terms might it be supplied? Or it is more likely that, say, the BBC will deliver BBC iPlayer for LInux in a bundle that includes the AIR runtime? Or is it just wishful thinking?

Adobe’s open source evangelist Dave McAllister has a go at defending the decision, pointing out that the growing client operating systems are Android and iOS, not desktop Linux, and that AIR for Linux accounts for only a 0.5% download share. However, Linux developers observe that Adobe’s AIR for Linux effort has always been half-hearted and tricky to install, especially on 64-bit installations. AIR itself is still 32-bit, as is the Flash Player on all systems, though there is 64-bit version in preview codenamed “Square”.

Most people run Windows or Mac desktops, and will not miss AIR for Linux. That said, decisions like this do undermine confidence in the Flash platform as a cross-platform proposition. The problem is, Flash technology is not open source and ultimately whether a particular platform is supported is a matter for Adobe, with all the commercial and political factors that implies.

The risk for Adobe is that when it abandons smaller platforms, it make open standard alternatives and in particular the collection of web technologies we call HTML5 more attractive.

Financial Times ports app to web to avoid iTunes

The Financial Times, which is among the few web publications that seems able to make sense of paywalled content, is launching a web application [paywalled article] for mobile devices, specifically to bypass Apple’s iTunes App Store. Here they are side by side.

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Rob Grimshaw, managing director of FT.com, said the FT had no plans to pull out of any apps store, but that it would encourage users to adopt the web app with a marketing campaign, including a week’s free access.

The issue highlighted in the FT’s own article is analytics. The FT says it wants to "secure a direct relationship with readers." Apple currently does not divulge information about subscribers to publishers.

Another possible factor may be Apple’s insistence that all subscriptions and in-app purchases are offered through its own payment system, ensuring a 30% cut of every transaction. Publishers may also offer subscriptions on their own site, but may not undercut the App Store, nor include links to such offers within the app, as detailed here.

Is the web app as good? Well, A banner encourages the user to pin the app to the home screen so that it behaves more like an app:

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Further, the web app makes use of HTML 5 local storage to enable offline reading and prompts the user to increase its local storage space:

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With these two features, the web option can be nearly as good as a native app. However, while there are advantages for the FT, there will be little or no intrinsic advantage for subscribers, who like the convenience of purchasing through the App Store, unless the web option is cheaper or better. Perhaps it is: the FT’s Tim Bradshaw says it is “actually faster than native”.

The dark side of Apple’s success with iOS is the company’s control over the platform and tax on all transactions within it. Interesting to see the FT turning back to the open web in an effort to win back a little freedom.

Considering Windows 8 as an HTML platform

Amongst all the fuss about whether Microsoft is deprecating Silverlight or even client-side .NET, it is easy to lose sight of the other angle on this. What are the implications of Microsoft embracing HTML and JavaScript as a new first-class Windows development platform? Here’s the quote again:

Today, we also talked a bit about how developers will build apps for the new system. Windows 8 apps use the power of HTML5, tapping into the native capabilities of Windows using standard JavaScript and HTML to deliver new kinds of experiences. These new Windows 8 apps are full-screen and touch-optimized, and they easily integrate with the capabilities of the new Windows user interface.

When Microsoft introduced IE9 with hardware-accelerated graphics, support for some key parts of HTML 5, and a new fast JavaScript engine, it was not only trying to recover ground in the browser wars. It also had in mind a new application runtime for Windows, for desktop as well as for web applications.

In order to achieve this, we can expect more hooks between the browser engine and the local operating system. There is potential security risk, but Microsoft of all companies will be sensitive to this and I would expect it to get the security right. The further implication is that some parts of a Windows HTML application will be Windows-specific. It is an “Embrace and extend” strategy, as I noted in this Register article back in September last year when former Silverlight product manager Scott Barnes broke the story of how the Windows team at Microsoft was favouring HTML and JavaScript above .NET.

The rationale for this is two-fold. First, I’m guessing that Microsoft thinks it will work better. Although .NET client apps are now commonplace, especially for custom business applications, problems like slow start-up and heavy memory requirements never really went away, though I would argue that in Silverlight they are almost eliminated.

Second, HTML and JavaScript is a universal programming platform. With the new model, any developer who can code a web page can also code a Windows app. Corporate VP Michael Angiulo said at Computex in Taipei:

Windows 8’s new application platform … is based on HTML 5, JavaScript and CSS, the most widely understood programming languages of all time. These languages form the backbone of the web, so that on day 1 when Windows 8 ships hundreds of millions of developers will already know how to build great apps for Windows 8.

These are both compelling arguments. Nevertheless, there are several reasons why making Windows an HTML platform might not be the instant hit that Microsoft will be hoping for. Here are a few:

  • Microsoft’s Visual Studio is .NET oriented. It does have a web design tool, Expression Web, which is OK but still falls short compared to Adobe Dreamweaver. Web designers tend to use Dreamweaver anyway, thanks to Mac compatibility and integration with other Adobe tools. Even Dreamweaver is not great as an application development tool, as opposed to a web design tool. Tooling is a problem, and it is fair to say that whatever goodies Microsoft comes up with in this area will likely be a step back compared to what it already has for C# or C++.
  • Standards are a mixed blessing if you are trying to sell an operating system. If Microsoft does such a good job of standards support that the same apps run with minor tweaks on an iPad and on Android, users may do just that. If Microsoft encumbers the standards with too many proprietary extensions, the universality of the platform is lost.
  • Windows plus HTML and JavaScript sounds a lot like Palm/HP WebOS, which has gained favourable reviews but has yet to take off in terms of sales. Otherwise, Palm would not have been taken over by HP.
  • The question of whether HTML and JavaScript will really take over app development is open. I certainly hear voices saying so. I interviewed Nitobi’s president André Charland, in charge of PhoneGap, and he makes a good case. On the other hand, App development today is still dominated by platform-specific development, Objective C for Apple iOS and Java on Dalvik, the Google Android virtual machine.
  • The standard in HTML/JavaScript app platforms is not Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, but WebKit, as used in iOS and in Google Android and Chrome. Microsoft did great work in standards support in IE9, but so far it has not stopped its browser share decline. Worldwide figures from StatCounter show Internet Explorer in continuing slow decline overall, and Chrome still growing and set to overtake Firefox in a year or so.

In other words, there is little evidence that embracing HTML and JavaScript as an app platform will ensure success for Windows 8.

That said, other factors count for more. Developers will go where their customers are, and if Microsoft turns out a version of Windows that wins substantial market share in the emerging tablet market as well as on traditional notebooks, the new platform will be a hit.

The risk though is that the market will continue to perceive Windows as an OS for desktop and laptop, and look to iOS or Android for mobile and touch devices. The dual personality of Windows 8 may count against it, if it means devices that are compromised by having to support both user interface models.

Cloud is identity management says Kim Cameron, now ex-Microsoft

Kim Cameron, formerly chief identity architect at Microsoft, has  confirmed that he has left the company.

In an interview at the European Identity Conference in Munich he discusses the state of play in identity management, but does not explain what interests me most: why he left. He was respected across the industry and to my mind was a tremendous asset to Microsoft; his presence went a long way to undoing the damage of Hailstorm, an abandoned project from 2001 which sought to place Microsoft at the centre of digital life and failed largely because of industry mistrust. He formulated laws of identity which express good identity practice, things like minimal disclosure, justifiable parties, and user control and consent.

Identity is a complex and to most people an unexciting topic; yet it has never been more important. It is a central issue around Google’s recently announced Chromebook, for example; yet we tend to be distracted by other issues, like hardware features or software quality, and to miss the identity implications. Vendors are careful never to spell these out, so we need individuals like Cameron who get it.

“Cloud is identity management,” he says in the interview.

Cameron stands by his laws of identity, which is says are still “essentially correct”. However, events like the recent Sony data loss show how little the wider industry respects them.

So what happened at Microsoft? Although he puts a brave face on it, I am sure he must have been disappointed by the failure of Cardspace, a user interface and infrastructure for identity management that was recently abandoned. It was not successful, he says, because “it was not adopted by the large players,” but what he does not say is that Microsoft itself could have done much more to support it.

That may have been a point of tension; or maybe there were other disagreements. Cameron does not talk down his former company though. “There are a lot of people there who share the ideas that I was expressing, and my hope is that those ideas will continue to be put in practice,” he says, though the carefully chosen words leave space for the possibility that another well-represented internal group do not share them. He adds though that products like SharePoint do have his ideas about claims-based identity management baked into them.

Leaving aside Microsoft, Cameron makes what seems to me an important point about advocacy. “We’re at the beginning of a tremendously complex and deep technological change,” he says, and is worried by the fact that with vendors chasing immediate advantage there may be “no advocates for user-centric, user in control experience.”

Fortunately for us, Cameron is not bowing out altogether. “How can I stop? It is so interesting,” he says.

Microsoft’s Scott Guthrie moving to Windows Azure

According to an internal memo leaked to ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft’s Scott Guthrie who is currently Corporate VP of the .NET Developer Platform is moving to lead the Azure Application Platform team. This means he will report to Ted Kummert who is in charge of the Business Platform Division, instead of S Somasegar who runs the Developer Division; however both divisions are part of the overall Server and Tools Division. Server and Tools is the division from which Bob Muglia was ousted as president in January; the reason for this is still not clear to me, though I would guess at some significant strategy disagreement with CEO Steve Ballmer.

Guthrie was co-inventor of ASP.NET and is one of the most approachable of senior Microsoft execs; he is popular and respected by developers and his blog is one of the first places I look for in-depth and hands-on explanations of new features in Microsoft’s developer platform, such as ASP.NET MVC and Entity Framework.

I have spent a lot of time researching and using Visual Studio 2010, and while not perfect it is among the most impressive developer products I know, from the detail of the editor and debug features right through to ALM (Application Lifecycle Management) aspects like Team Foundation Server, testing in various forms, and build management. Some of that quality is likely due to Guthrie’s influence. The successful evolution of ASP.NET from web forms towards the leaner and more flexible ASP.NET MVC is another achievement in which I am sure he played a significant role.

Is it wise to take Guthrie away from his first love and over to the Azure platform? Only Microsoft can answer that, and of course he will still be responsible for an ASP.NET platform. I’d guess that we will see further improvement in the Visual Studio tools for Azure as well.

Still, it is a bold move and one that underlines the importance of Azure to the company. In my own research I have gained increasing respect for Azure and I would expect Guthrie’s arrival there to be successful in winning attention from the Microsoft platform developer community.

Native apps better than web apps? That’s silly talk says PhoneGap president

When I attended Mobile World Congress in February one of my goals was to explore the merits of the various different approaches to writing cross-platform mobile apps. One of the key ones is PhoneGap, and I got in touch with Nitobi’s president and co-founder André Charland. As it turned out he was not at that particular event, but he kept in touch and I spoke to him last week.

PhoneGap works by using the installed HTML and JavaScript engine on the device as a runtime for apps. That is not as limiting as it may sound, since today’s devices have high performance JavaScript engines, and PhoneGap apps can be extended with native plug-ins if necessary. But aren’t there inconsistencies between all these different browser engines?

Sure, it’s kinda like doing web development today. Just a lot better because it’s just different flavours of WebKit, not WebKit, Gecko, whatever is in IE, and all sorts of other differentiation. So that’s definitely how it is, but that is being overcome rather quickly I’d say with modern mobile JavaScript libraries. There’s JQuery Mobile, there’s Sencha Touch, there’s DoJo Mobile just released, SproutCore, which is backed by Strobe, which is kinda the core of Apple’s MobileMe.

There’s tons of these things, Zepto.js which is from the scriptaculous guy, Jo which is a framework out of a Palm engineer, the list of JavaScript frameworks coming out is getting longer and longer and they’re getting refined and used quite a bit, and those really deal with these platform nuances.

At the same time, phone manufacturers, or iOS, Android, WebOS, and now RIM, they’re competing to have the best WebKit. That means you’re getting more HTML5 features implemented quicker, you’re getting better JavaScript performance, and PhoneGap developers get to take advantage of that.

says Charland. He goes further when I put to him the argument made by native code advocates – Apple CEO Steve Jobs among them – that PhoneGap apps can never achieve the level of integration, the level of performance that they get with native code. Will the gap narrow?

I think it will go away, and people will look back on what they’re saying today and think, that was a silly thing to say.

Today there are definitely performance benefits you can get with native code, and our answer to that is simply that PhoneGap is a bundle made of core libraries, so at any point in your application that you don’t want to use HTML and JavaScript you can write a native plugin, it’s a very flexible, extensible architecture … So you can do it. We don’t necessarily say that’s the best way to go. Really if you’re into good software development practices the web stack will get you 90%, 95% of the way there, so that apps are indistinguishable from native apps.

Some of the native features we see in iOS apps, they’re reminiscent of Flash home pages of ten years ago, sure you can’t do it in HTML and JavaScript but it doesn’t add any value to the end user, and it detracts from the actual purpose of the application.

The other thing is, a lot of these HTML and JavaScript things, are one step away from being as good in a web stack as they are in native. When hardware acceleration gets into WebKit and the browser, then performance is really just as good.

Charland is also enthusiastic about Adobe’s recent announcement, that PhoneGap is integrated into Dreamweaver 5.5:

Two things are exciting from our perspective. It gives us massive reach. Dreamweaver is a widely used product that ties in very nicely to the other parts of the creative suite toolchain, so you can get from a high-level graphic concept to code a lot quicker. Having PhoneGap and JQuery Mobile in there together is nice, JQuery Mobile is definitely one of the more popular frameworks that we see our community latching on to.

The other thing is that Dreamweaver targets a broader level of developer, it’s maybe not super hard core, either Vi or super-enterprise, Eclipse guys, you know, it’s people who are more focused on the UI side of things. Now it gives them access to quickly use PhoneGap and package their applications, test them, prove their concepts, send them out to the marketplace.

He says Adobe should embrace HTML and Flash equally.

I also asked about Windows Phone support, and given that Microsoft shows no sign of implementing WebKit, I was surprised to get a strongly positive response:

We have something like 80% of the APIs in PhoneGap running on Windows Phone already. That’s open and in the public repo. We are just waiting basically for the IE9 functionality to hit the phone. The sooner they get that out in public, the sooner we can support Windows Phone 7. We have customers knocking at our door begging for it, we’ve actually signed contracts to implement it, with some very large customers. Just can’t there soon enough, really. I think it’s an oversight on their part to not get IE9 onto the phone quicker.

PhoneGap is at version 0.94 at the moment; Charland says 0.95 will be out “in a few weeks” and he is hoping to get 1.0 completed by O’Reilly OSCON in July.

I’ve posted nearly the complete transcript of my interview, so if you are interested in Charland’s comments on building a business on open source, and how PhoneGap compares to Appcelerator’s Titanium, and what to do about different implementations of local SQL on devices, be sure to read the longer piece.

The future of Google Apps: social features, high performance spreadsheets, working offline

Yesterday I spoke to Google’s Global Product Management Director for Google Enterprise (whew!) Matthew Glotzbach, at a press briefing for Google Apps which included the announcement of Google Docs Discussions, as covered here.

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One of the issues discussed in the briefing was Cloud Connect, which I reported on here. Cloud Connect automatically copies and synchronises Microsoft Office documents with Google’s cloud storage. There are some performance and usability issues, but the biggest problem is that you cannot edit the documents in the browser; or rather, if you do, Google makes a second copy leading to versioning issues.

Google says this is a file format issue. The online Google Docs applications cannot edit documents in Microsoft Office formats – “the document models are completely different” says Glotzbach – though it can import and export those formats. Could Google develop the ability to edit Office documents online? “It is a technical challenge, something we haven’t built yet,” he added.

It is an interesting point. Microsoft’s Office Web Apps have flaws, but they do let you maintain the same document whether edited in the browser or in the Office desktop applications. It is an example of friction if you try to live partly in Microsoft Office, and partly in Google’s cloud. It may be better to stick with one or the other.

What about offline capability, something I hear a lot as counting against Google Docs. Google had a solution for this based on its Gears add-on, but then withdrew it.

We are actively working on offline. It is extremely important. Gears was a precursor. A lot of the ideas embedded in Gears have become part of HTML5.

says Glotzbach. I asked whether this will extend to the Chrome OS netbook operating system, and he said that it will:

Chrome, as the most modern browser based on HTML 5, has the capabilities built into its core. Chrome OS as a derivative of that has those offline capabilities baked into it, so it is a matter of having applications take advantage of that.

We also talked about the new discussions feature. I observed that it seems to be just one part of a bigger story. What about discussions spanning multiple documents? What about discussions without documents? Is there any way of doing that?

“Yes, email,” he said, chuckling. Clearly Google has taken to heart that email remains the de facto mechanism for most corporate collaboration. “We’ve also got Google groups. Obviously the manifestation of a group for many users is email, that’s how they interact with it, but there is also a destination site or page for that group.”

Might Google develop its own equivalent to Salesforce.com Chatter, for Twitter-like enterprise messaging?

The idea of eventually being able to pull in other streams, the idea of social media inside the enterprise Is a powerful idea. I think Chatter is a good example of that, and others such as Yammer. I think those ideas will likely find their way into businesses. It is not clear to me that social will be a destination within an Enterprise. Rather I see it as, features will emerge in various products that leverage those social capabilities. Discussions is influenced heavily by a lot of those social media ideas, and so you can see that evolving into more integrated social capabilities across the app suite.

What about Google spreadsheets, which seem great for simple tasks and collaboration, but suffer performance and scalability issues when used with large data collections that work fine in Excel?

There’s always work to do. We have today some limitations in terms of spreadsheet size. Those are things we are actively working on. With browser technologies I actually think we have an advantage over desktop applications. If I told you I had a spreadsheet that had 5 million columns and a billion rows, there’s no desktop spreadsheet in the world that can handle that kind of volume, but because we have in essence supercomputers on the back end processing that, what you display is just a window of that large data. So we’re using clever technologies like pre-fetching the rows and columns that are just off the edge of the page, similar to some of the technologies we use with Google Maps.

But it’s an example where we have some artificial limitations that we are working to remove. Imagine doing really sophisticated non-linear calculations in a spreadsheet. We’ve got a supercomputer on the back end that can do that for you in seconds.