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Google I/O 2010

Google's annual I/O conference has turned into a tech industry event, akin to Microsoft's PDC events or basically any Apple announcement. That Google I/O is a developer show shouldn't be off-putting, however, as platforms companies often use these events to preview upcoming technologies so that developers can get an early peek at, and access to, what's coming next. In fact, that's exactly why PDC and Apple's WWDC (Worldwide Developer Conference) are so interesting as well.

At last year's I/O, Google introduced Google Wave, which I initially got very excited about, only to watch the bloated and pointless service crash and burn. But this was a rare lapse. Google I/O is generally very interesting and, given Google's influence, popularity, and market power, something for me to examine from a competitive standpoint.

This year, in particular, Google has made some interesting forays that put it, once again, squarely in Microsoft's sights. Too, the company took the most obvious steps yet to position itself as a rival and alternative to Apple, once its closest and friendliest partner. When you combine these two facts with Google's suddenly aggressive stance, you see clearly that this company intends to not just participate in virtually every technology market imaginable, but to dominate them as well.

Here's what happened at this year's show.


Vic G. and the call to action

This year's I/O was Google's third, and the first at which the company streamed the keynote events live from the show. Once again, the conference was keynoted by Google vice president of engineering Vic Gundotra. Many don't know or remember this, but Gundotra worked at Microsoft for 15 years and rose through the Visual Basic ranks to eventually become the software giant's general manager for Platform Evangelism. His defection to Google was just one of many such high-profile personnel losses to sudden rival Google, and his own elevation there to lead Google's developers efforts puts an interesting spin on the whole Microsoft/Google competition. He's a smart guy.

Gundotra noted that the name "I/O" was inspired by input/output of course, but also "innovation" and "open." "Make no mistake about it," he said. "The web is the most important platform of our generation." This simple statement is a direct shot at competitors, including both Microsoft and Apple, which continue to pursue proprietary and (by comparison) old-fashioned platforms of their own. "And because it's a platform controlled by none of us, it's the only platform that truly belongs to all of us. It's our job as a community to move that platform forward."

It's hard not to be inspired by this kind of talk, and easy to forget for a moment that some 90 percent of Google's $24 billion in annual revenues last year was the result of annoying little ads and not some idealistic mission to improve the platform on which that advertising's continued success so very clearly relies.

Google, like Mozilla, Apple, Microsoft, and others, is fixated on HTML 5, so much so that I have to wonder if this standard-in-the-making--it won't be ratified for several years, if you can believe that--is an albatross of sorts. Google, interestingly, takes credit for jumpstarting HTML 5 momentum, and Gundotra said that last year's I/O was effectively the beginning of the HTML 5 era. Other big milestones for HTML 5 in 2009 included You Tube adopting the technology and Apple's adoption via a "late night Steve Jobs email or something," Gundotra said (to laughs). "Hey, we'll take support from wherever we can get it." Microsoft's support for HTML 5 in IE 9 generated another spike in interest, he added.

Of course, HTML 5 and the web are both works in progress. Looking ahead, Google wants to make the web faster, make web apps more discoverable (akin to iPhone apps in Apple's iTunes Store), make it easier for developers to monetize their web apps, and extend the web to new form factors. (Last year, it was about mobile; this year, "new form factors" refers to Google TV, as described below.) These simple goals are, of course, exactly what Google discussed during the rest of the show. They're not vague, future goals. They're actual products and advances the company is working on now and will release throughout the year.

Continue to Part 2: HTML 5 Is The Future