Well, its not free hardware, but its still a pretty big announcement. Google Wave is a new open source communication and collaboration tool from the creators of Google Maps.
From Google, “Today we’re giving developers at Google I/O an early preview of Google Wave, ahead of public launch. A “wave” is equal parts conversation and document, where people can communicate and work together with richly formatted text, photos, videos, maps, and more.”
The entire app is HTML 5 (which they’ve really been pushing lately) and seems to be aimed at replacing email. Lars started by saying email is a forty year old technology that was created before the internet and is no longer the most efficient way to communicate. Wave has been development for years in Sydney and today they announced all the developers here at I/O will be given free sandbox accounts (codes coming via email, ironically enough).
At this point Google Wave is just a developer preview but they are hoping to have a final product released by the end of the year. Wave runs completely in the browser and has numerous features not currently available with email or instant messaging. The messages are hosted, which makes it easy for anyone involved to hop into the thread and have the most recent information. Attachments work via drag and drop, and even send the thumbnails to other users while the full size images are loading. Long messages can easily be split into multiple threads, allowing easy replies to specific questions in the middle of a huge paragraph. There is an auto spell check that quickly corrects errors as you type. Instead of seeing “user is typing” while someone composes a message, you can actually see the live typing coming across as its typed. Threads can be shared with multiple users who can instantly participate in the conversations (which should totally kill CC and BCC).
Another huge feature is integration with other web services. To demo, they added a user named Bloggy to a ‘wave’ (I guess the new Google term for thread). Bloggy was a robotic user that was able to push the entire way out to Blogger. Within seconds, the entire wave was online as a Blogger entry. The embedded wave had images, multiple comments, even the wave UI. When someone left a comment on the wave, it was immediately shown on the blog (in real time, as he typed). They announced Waves will have a full API, which they hope will lead to multiple open source applications. They showed Wave integrating with Orkut. They showed Wave on an Android phone.
They are currently still demoing more features, so I’m sure this post may leave out some juicy bits, I just wanted to post it now to get the word out. Overall it looks like an amazingly useful tool. And considering this is just a developer demo, has a full API, and just gave developer accounts to 4k of the top devs in the world I can only assume its going to be better.