Google flags enterprise mapping apps

Transport and logistics prime candidates

Enterprises looking to put a visual spin on their information systems can now turn to the very consumer oriented Google Maps.

Speaking at this year's Australian Unix Users Group (AUUG) conference in Melbourne today, Google Australia's head of engineering, Lars Rasmussen said since its launch early last year, Google Maps has attracted thousands of "mash up" applications that use the free Web service API to integrate third-party information.

One of Rasmussen's favourites is the Seattle Bus Monster which displays the live location of buses, the location of bus stops, and estimated waiting times of buses on their routes around Seattle.

SMS messages can also be sent to a phone informing people when a bus is arriving. Many of the so-called "mashups" are using the free API which is a free beta service available for any Web site that consumers can access without charge, according to Google.

Rasmussen said the company also released an enterprise version of the API, because "a lot of people asked if they could pay money for it".

Google Maps for Enterprise was created for the maps API to be used on an intranet or in a non-publicly accessible application. The enterprise API comes with a guarantee of uptime and support from Google.

Rasmussen, one of the original creators of Google Maps, said when the company decided it was worth doing, his team didn't have to argue over how much money it would cost because the idea was consistent with the philosophy of "if you can find large numbers of people to use something you can make money out of it".

Although Rasmussen's early mapping application work involved developing a fat client application in C++, he quickly discovered the benefits of a JavaScript-driven, Web-only interface which was Google's way of doing things when he joined the search giant.

"Compare the trouble of porting the C++ app to Linux and the Mac, JavaScript was a breeze," he said, adding it only took a four-person team a few weeks to develop a Web-based prototype of the original mapping application.

"We get close functionality to a desktop application but we get it a lot easier [and] we can push out bugs almost instantaneously to millions of users."

While native applications are still "sexier" than AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML), Rasmussen yearns for a time when browsers give the same experience as a client desktop app.

For example, Google Earth, now used by "more than 100 million people", and Maps query the same servers; Maps won't tilt or swivel the map in real-time.

Rasmussen said Google's 3D Warehouse is an "ambitious" project to build 3D models of all structures on the surface of the Earth.

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