To score, to scar, to smear, to streak,
To smudge, to blur, to gouge, to scrape.
"Action painting," i.e.,
The painter gets to behave like time.
-- From "Time and Materials," by 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Haas
Who, what, when, where, why, and how
This is a full-on development environment for online services, complete with database storage, user authentication against standard Google accounts, and full use of the open-source Python programming language. All of the above runs on the company's massive infrastructure of servers and storage units, and the application programming interfaces (APIs) strive to make all the back-end complexity invisible to the developer.
If this sounds vaguely familiar, you're thinking of Amazon.com's
Getting down and dirty
Unfortunately, Google has already exhausted the trial account allotment, so no hands-on experience for me. For now, App Engine is a virtual playground for the 10,000 developers who were lucky or quick enough to get a trial account. By contrast, Amazon's Web Services were launched back in 2002, and the company claims that more than 330,000 developers are now using its platforms.
There are probably a few bugs to work out of the Googly system before it's ready for production-level prime time, and the company is only providing access to the free but volume-limited starter account at the moment. Amazon won't give you anything for free (though its rates certainly beat setting up your own data center), so Google might attract a fair number of small businesses, Web upstarts, and hobby projects. There are plans to expand the language selection beyond just Python, and a spokesperson said that the project is intended as an alternative to the ubiquitous "LAMP stack" (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and Python/Perl/PHP) of Web 2.0 technologies.
The Foolish takeaway
I'm a big fan of the "cloud computing" approach to setting up Web services, and I think that it will become a major force in the future of the Internet. It remains to be seen which of the early entrants will come out on the top of heap and start making real money from this quiet revolution in the meganerd set. I could also imagine other hopefuls tossing their hats in the ring, including Oracle
Despite the distant goal line, I feel like Google has a real shot at the title here. This kind of innovation-on-the-fly seems to come naturally to Googlers, and I expect the service to gain strength and build a good reputation quickly. It's another future feather in Mountain View's cap, and probably a decent moneymaker within two or three years as the premium accounts gain traction.
Smudge it on, G-man!