While App Engine makes you download a special toolkit, and memorize command line switches to deploy your code, AppJet utilized a web based IDE. You could create your application right there in your browser. What is more, you could could look the source code of existing apps, and even “clone” them at a press of a button. It was by far the most newbie friendly application hosting environment that I have seen on the web. Nothing else even came close with respect to ease of use, learning curve and intuitiveness of the interface.
Unfortunately that service is now gone. AppJet Inc decided to discontinue their cloud hosting framework to concentrate on their flagship product EtherPad which (as opposed to the hundreds of poorly written applications they were supporting) they can actually market for profit. I’m not sure what prompted this decision, but I can make an educated guess. Supporting the framework and it’s community was probably a resource drain that did create some hype and drive people to their website but ultimately made them no money. Some shrewd business-monkey probably noticed that and decided to axe the project and re-purpose it’s resources towards their money making product.
After all there is no such thing as free hosting (or fee lunch) – someone has to pay for it. Google can support their App Engine because… Well, because they are Google. They probably have more money to burn on superfluous projects in their budget this month than I will earn in my whole life. So for them offering cloud hosting for applications is entirely feasible and realistic. If you are a small startup like AppJet was it’s a whole different story.
Its sad to see this neat little service go away. Fortunately AppJet is not discontinuing their stand-alone server package so those who put time and effort into creating applications using their service can still migrate and self host them. Still, it is disheartening to see this happen to such a promising project. I was hoping that this type of hosting will catch on and other companies will jump on the bandwagon. AppJet gave me hope that in the near future it will be as easy and as straightforward to publish a personal application for free as it is to publish a personal web page right now. These days just about anyone can start a blog or a forum – there is nothing to it. You press a button and you are done.
Seeing AppJet make it possible to host a complex web application just as easily gave me think that this bright future is just around the cornet. I expected to see an explosion of Cloud hosted application frameworks everywhere. The opposite has happened. AppJet folded and got out of the cloud hosting business. I guess they were simply ahead of their time.
I’m sure we will see this type of project again at some point. The whole idea of in-browser IDE, one-button application cloning and rapid deployment is just to neat to abandon. Perhaps in a few years someone else will pick up this thread and hit it big. Perhaps it will be one of the big boys (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft). I’m pretty sure people would actually be willing to pay for this type of user friendly web interface. That said, AppJet can probably squeeze more profits from Enterprise version of EtherPad than they would from paid hosting. That of course does not mean that such a service would not be profitable.