After a couple of years in development, Yahoo! officially launched their BrowserPlus plugin at a party on the Yahoo! campus today. BrowserPlus is a new cross-browser plugin from Yahoo! that enables what they’re called “in-browser desktop applications,” which is a fancy way of saying that it allows developers to add desktop-like functionality to web-based apps. The BrowserPlus approach is a bit different from Gears (a Google-led open source project), which is a desktop wrapper for web apps with local data store, and Adobe’s AIR, which recreates a web environment on the desktop, though there is some overlap.
BrowserPlus offers developers a number of services, including persistent data store — which is one of the main selling points of Gears and AIR, drag and drop, file uploading, IRC chat, motion sensor control, and desktop messaging.
According to Yahoo!’s Lloyd Hilaiel, the goal with BrowserPlus is to “[fix] the web plug-in environment, making rapid experimentation possible.” Hilaiel thinks that browser plugins are great because they allow developers to extend the browser to do a range of new things, but the current system is broken. They’re difficult to write, installing them is a pain (who wants to restart your browser before you can access new content?), updating them is clumsy, and securing them is hard, he told attendees at the launch event according to a live blog at Ajaxian.
BrowserPlus, on the other hand, will allow developers to push new desktop functionality to users via web applications without the need to restart the browser, and updates can be pushed to users in the background without requiring them to reinstall anything. For the end-user, BrowserPlus would be a single install and additional developer services could be launched and pushed to them behind the scenes. Currently, only Yahoo! and their partners can launch new services on BrowserPlus.
Yahoo! is intending to open source BrowserPlus eventually. The Service API should be opened up by the end of this year, with everything else following in the middle of 2009.
“We want BrowserPlus to be portable, crash-proof, secure, and tiny,” says Hilaiel, who talked about a plethora of upcoming services that people are already discussing. “Folks on the forums are talking about peer-to-peer support. People are suggesting screen capture technology for better bug reporting. Webcam integration! Easy import of calendaring data! Drag-and-drop of Word documents! Bittorrent! There’s no shortage of ideas,” he said, noting that he’s excited to see what developers come up with once they have full access to the Service API.
Back in June, we wrote on SitePoint blogs that BrowserPlus was an important part of Yahoo!’s web OS play. “Yahoo already runs some of the most frequented web applications worldwide; add BrowserPlus and they can not only supercharge their applications, they can do it within their own platform. With BrowserPlus, the local OS suddenly became a lot less important,” wrote Akash Mehta.
The battle for the web platform is shaping up to be a battle of titans between Google, Adobe, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Sun, and perhaps Facebook and Apple.