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Gadgets open door to Google's enterprise apps

Web widgets and gadgets are not just for the Chumby any more. Developers that write add-ons for Google Apps will be using, guess what, gadgets.

Correction: the original article misattributed comments to the two Google executives I interviewed. The attributions have been changed.

Google's move on Wednesday to open up an online shop for third-party Google Apps add-ons, called Google Solutions Marketplace, may make more people take Web widgets more seriously--even enterprise developers.

Widgets, or gadgets, allow people to embed small applets within a Web page for things like displaying the weather, or set alarms on a PC or other Web device.

A motion chart made with Google gadgets, a way to customize Google Docs. Google

But Google Gadgets is also one way that Google encourages software developers to customize Google Apps.

In March, Google launched a visualization API (application programming interface) for its Google Docs and a gallery of gadgets that use the API. With it, people can display data from a Google Web spreadsheet in a variety of ways, like a pie chart, map, time chart, or funnel chart.

But that visualization API is the beginning of more to come, Google executives told me back in March. And gadgets allow you to tap those APIs to customize Google applications.

The ability to tailor applications for a specific purpose or industry is very important to businesses, and thus any company trying to sell to them.

Microsoft refers to Office as a "platform" that can be customized with its flagship Visual Studio programming tool. has invested heavily in AppExchange and its hosted development platform to create an ecosystem of third-party add-ons and hosted applications.

The advantage of the gadgets approach is that it's relatively simple--a Webmaster could put something together. Also, gadgets are portable to other Web pages, like iGoogle's customized home page.

"Gadgets are a very approachable coding model and you can do surprisingly useful things very quickly," said Sam Schillace, the engineering director who oversees collaborative applications at Google. "We haven't been shy about talking about programming the Web in smaller pieces and gadgets work really well."

Another benefit to the gadget approach, from Google's perspective, is that they are "native to the Internet," in that they are written using Ajax and designed to run in the "cloud."

Google is hosting its second developer conference in May, called Google I/O, to encourage developers to write more applications for the Web. On Monday, it launched Google App Engine, a place where they can test and host those applications.

Jonathan Rochelle, senior product manager who manages the spreadsheet editor at Google Docs, said he wrote a gadget to translate content in Google Docs. Another simple example is creating charts for soccer team statistics, he said.

But in the context of a business, one could imagine more complicated applications. For example, a business could mash up information from an order management system and customer database and then present it in a Google spreadsheet for its customers to view over the Web.

How far Google's gadgets approach will go into business is not clear yet as it's early on. But it's obvious that gadgets makes sense for businesspeople--even SAP is doing it.

Now it's a question of how far developers can push the limits of this gadget business.