The mainstream API of the future

Google’s Gears announcements today highlight the huge amount of activity happening right now with cross-platform web/desktop hybrid application platforms.

These API platforms are universally rough and will change a lot, but they’re functional today. The time for a major wave of new desktop applications is near — replacing the Windows 9x/NT generation that’s still widely in use. That will create a ton of opportunities for small and large software companies alike.

The 9x/NT Windows API is no longer appealing. And Microsoft is unable, for a number of reasons, to take their own mantle with the next generation (.NET/Vista).

So there’s a vacuum that’s beginning to be filled by a ton of interesting new desktop application platforms, which have their roots in the web: Adobe Apollo, Google Gears (with some collaboration with Adobe), and potentially tools similar to Joyent Slingshot or LINA or just straight apps-on-VMs. And Microsoft is trying to stay in the game with things like Silverlight 1.1, which is available across two OSs and several browsers, which would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

Unfortunately, for a platform today to be ubiquitous, it’s got to run in so many different environments, that it’s hard for it to be anything but open source. Which is why Google is going that route for key portions of Gears, and why the announcements today are so important for independent software developers in placing their platform bets.

The game-changer would be if Bill (or Ray) could put out an “Embrace Open Source as a Tool” memo, which could turn the company on a dime like the “Internet Tidal Wave” memo did 12 years ago this week.

But, unfortunately, I don’t see that happening.

So while it’s not a question about whether we’ll have a shift in platforms — and clearly open source is going to play a key deciding role this time — we’ll have a while to wait until we see decisively which platform(s) have won.

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