Google Wave: 'Like Real-Time E-Mail. On Crack.'

Last Updated Jul 23, 2009 7:22 AM EDT

Developers are finally getting their hands on the developer preview of Google's Wave, which means we can finally get some first-hand accounts of what it's really like to use, unfiltered by Google's own programmers.

Wave, demonstrated by Google at its I/O developer conference in May of this year, allows customers to create a customizable communications and collaboration tool without any software other than an Internet browser. As such, Wave poses a significant threat to the business models of Microsoft and other applications vendors.

Ben Rometsch, a developer with U.K. Web development firm Solid State, blogged that, it's "probably the most advanced 'application in a browser' that I've seen."

Wave is like giant Web page onto which users can drag and drop any kind of object, including instant messaging and IRC [Internet Relay Client Chat] clients, e-mail, and wikis, as well as gadgets like maps and video. All conversations, work product and applications are stored on remote servers -- presumably forever. "It's like real time email. On crack," he wrote.

According to Rometsch, the user interface is nothing like a typically minimalist Google search, Gmail or Google Docs UI. "It feels a lot more like a desktop application that just so happens to live in your browser," he writes.
It really does feel like a little operating system living in your browser tab. Using it suddenly makes Chrome and Chrome OS make a whole lot of sense. If you listen carefully you can hear [Microsoft CEO Steve] Ballmer's chairs flying around in the background.
Rometsch's experience was not entirely positive â€" Wave is obviously in preview, and every developer is on the same Wave server. "As a result it's somewhat anarchic," he noted.

He also said the Javascript engine crashed frequently, and that Wave ran sluggishly on older set-ups. "On a 4 year old laptop running IE7 I'd say it is unusable," Rometsch wrote.

Rometsch said Wave won't be ready for public consumption for some time, but it's possible that when it does, "in 5 years time no-one will know how the world spun without it."

He also listed four things that will determine whether Wave is success or not:
  • How it is presented. Google has to come up with a coherent, one sentence answer to "What is it?"
  • How well it integrates with existing protocols like e-mail and IM
  • How much Javascript engines develop in the next 12 months
  • How third party developers leverage the platform in crazy and ingenious ways
One telling remark, however -- given that Wave is supposed to run in a browser and not require any kind of desktop support: "I'm not sure if there are API interfaces into the application but, ironically, it's crying out for a proper desktop client."

Maybe that's just an old habit that will fade away, or perhaps it's a sign that for all that Wave is supposed to presage, nothing will replace the need for storing data and conversations locally.

[Image source courtesy of Solid State]
  • Michael Hickins

    Michael Hickins has written about technology and business for BNET, InformationWeek, InternetNews.com, eWEEK -- where he was executive editor from 2007-2008 -- The Curator, Pseudo.com, Multex Investor, Reuters, and Conde Nast's WWD.com. Hickins is the author of The Actual Adventures of Michael Missing, a collection of short stories published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1991. He also published Blomqvist, a picaresque novel set in 11th century Europe, in 2006. Hickins remains passionately interested in the intersections of business, technology, politics and culture, and endures a life-long obsession with baseball. He is married with two children and lives in Manhattan.

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