Google (s goog) recently announced an extension framework for Chrome, adding the ability to run extra software in the browser. It’s a feature many had long considered missing from Google’s browser — and one that has been key to Firefox’s popularity.
But with the Chrome extensions, Google is doing much more than just playing catch-up with Firefox. An extensible browser is the missing piece of a much bigger puzzle: By tying its App Engine to Google Apps (more details in the App Engine blog), the company has delivered a complete ecosystem for cloud ISVs.
All software ecosystems need four basic things:
- A platform — A complete cloud platform is distributed, ubiquitous, and works both offline and on. App Engine lets developers build the server-side portion and not worry about scaling. And Chrome’s extensions let coders build a cross-platform user interface that leverages the Gears framework to work even when disconnected.
- Rich APIs — All those apps can use authentication, chat, OpenSocial, calendaring, Checkout, search, mapping, and other Google services. That makes it easy to build rich apps with familiar components.
- Administration — Google Apps lets an administrator purchase, provision and manage permissions for an app. Deployment is easy: Once you’ve found the app you want in the Google Marketplace, just click the “add” button, then install the Chrome extension.
- A market — Google Apps has 10 million active users and is signing up some 3,000 new companies a day, according to Matthew Glotzbach, product management director of Google Enterprise.
With the Chrome extensions, Google has made it possible for ISVs to launch ready-made niche applications for the cloud. It’s the same thing Facebook did with its API and Salesforce (s crm) did with AppExchange; in Google’s case, ISVs now have a turnkey channel that can reach small businesses easily.
The ability to let Apps customers buy third-party software isn’t quite ready yet. “Now, Google Apps administrators can also deploy several new Google applications hosted on App Engine to members of their organizations with Google Apps Labs,” said Pete Koomen, product manager for App Engine.
So for example, a dentist’s office could use Google’s Docs suite for word processing and spreadsheets, but also buy third-party apps from Marketplace — one for patient scheduling, and another for invoicing. They’d all work smoothly together, online and off, using the Apps/Docs/Chrome ecosystem.
With Google looking to find revenues beyond advertising, monetizing those 10 million accounts has got to be a big priority. Selling third-party applications can’t be far off. Of course, these apps will work with any browser. But they’ll likely work better with Chrome and its extensions.