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Will Google Wave be ready for prime time in two months?

July 30, 2009 |  7:08 pm

Google-wave

Google Wave inbox.

Google presented a private demonstration of its much-anticipated collaboration tool, Google Wave, this morning. Even after watching all of the videos and talking to the developers, the first thing that struck us is how rough it is around the edges.

To be fair, Google calls it a developer preview, meaning it's not meant for the prying eyes of the average user or critical journalist. Yet, the Times got an invitation anyway.

First, the good news: Wave has a lot going for it. Its function for letting users watch as you type each letter is punchy, just like it was in the demo, and works surprisingly well. At first, it feels sort of strange exposing your own typing habits and witnessing others'. But it really speeds conversations along.

Brothers Lars and Jens Rasmussen, the engineers behind Wave (and Google Maps) who walked us through the demo over the phone, say you'll eventually be able to turn off live editing. But that function probably won't be ready for the September release, Lars said.

We fumbled through the software for an hour while the Google lead engineers figuratively held our hands, and afterward spent many hours adapting to its many nuances. While some of the aspects are ...

... familiar because of its similarity to Gmail's interface, a lot of things aren't very intuitive and not every button works like you might expect.

The overwhelming design, which we critiqued after watching the demo, remains.

Wave-iphone

Google Wave's mobile interface on the iPhone.

A version of Wave for the iPhone and Android mobile system is accessible (see image at right), but most of it is broken.

Some of the things from the exciting Google I/O unveiling of the product still aren't in the current usable version. Among them, the publish-to-blog feature is broken and the ability to embed a map isn't even there.

"We're pretty good at demos, unfortunately," Lars Rasmussen said -- "demo" being the key word.

Right now, Wave has about 10,000 users -- two-thirds developers, a few journalists and the rest Google employees.

We could chalk all of the headaches up to it being pre-beta. But how different will things be on Sept. 30, when Google says it'll send out 100,000 Wave invitations?

Getting users to return could become a challenge.

One way to do so would be to have Wave replace users' default e-mail clients. But unless a third-party developer builds that function before then, it might not be able to send or receive traditional e-mails.

"Internally, on my team, we don't use e-mail at all" for work purposes, Lars Rasmussen said. "Of course, we're a little bit biased."

Lars Rasmussen said he expects, like for him, you may "reach a stage where you don't want to go back to the older way of doing things."

There's still a slew of bugs, crashes and a lack of solid extensions (called robots) coming from third-party developers. It certainly won't be easy cleaning up a massive project with a deadline that's two months away.

"We like to challenge ourselves," he said.

-- Mark Milian

Follow my commentary on technology and social media on Twitter @markmilian.

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