However, no matter how quick and easy building Web applications is with App Engine, and no matter how good Google’s infrastructure is, the service’s lack of openness remains a serious drawback. While Google’s representatives say that they want to avoid locking companies into their system, the reality is that as long as important components such as the database remain proprietary, developers will have limited flexibility. In my case, I don’t currently want to manage my blog so much as just write it: I just want software that works. Yet it was important to me to reserve the right to move it wherever I want, to add or remove tools, and possibly to learn enough at some point to begin participating in the design of the platform. In its current incarnation, App Engine doesn’t give developers analogous options.
While it’s possible to get data out of App Engine and move it somewhere else, Stocky says that not all the features that would allow an application to be transferred to some other system have been built yet. In the meantime, a developer who wanted to move away from App Engine would have to find a way to deal with, for example, losing the Google database system and having to move back to one like MySQL. A developer who was taking full advantage of Google’s database would have to do a lot of work to make the application function well on a different one. With Google Apps, unlike WordPress, losing the hosting service means losing the platform as well.
Besides, many developers will want to understand how the system underlying their applications works. “We like to know what’s going on under the hood,” says Gardner. He suspects that at some point, developers will push hard to get a better view.
Nonetheless, developers seem excited about App Engine. It’s a brilliant piece of engineering. And for most users, it’s hard to beat the price. One of the incredible things about the blogging revolution, however, is that it’s led not only to open discussion but to open experimentation with the systems that made it possible. App Engine is certain to lower the barrier to creating a Web startup, and it will bring in many new developers. But if they stick only to what Google’s offering, their innovations won’t be as far reaching as they might otherwise be.
Erica Naone is a Technology Review assistant editor.
Hear more from Google at EmTech Digital.