Power in computing has shifted from proprietary Microsoft APIs (application programming interfaces) to URLs on the web and content provision, Google vice-president Adam Bosworth said during the Zend/PHP Conference and Expo on Friday.

There has been a shift from 10 years ago: developers for the most part no longer build applications with the client-server paradigm and database access in mind, with C++ and Visual Basic being the predominant languages, according to Bosworth.

"Mostly, what we see today is people building apps using things like PHP [hypertext preprocessor] and the Lamp [Linux, Apache, MySQL, Perl/PHP/Python] stack," Bosworth said.

Apps used to be built via a control model, with that weapon of control being leveraged by Microsoft via an API, Bosworth said. "This model was kind of a beautiful thing if you were Microsoft", said Bosworth, who formerly worked at Microsoft and BEA Systems, "but the fact is, today I think this model is totally irrelevant."

Today, on demand computing and content are key, Bosworth said, citing online CRM provider Salesforce.com as a provider of on demand computing services. "What really matters is what community of people can I reach out to," and what value can be derived from content, he said, citing myspaces.com as such a community.

Fresh, dynamic content is what is now valuable, Bosworth said. "The biggest challenge to everyone on the web is how can I deliver information as freshly as possible," he added.

Bosworth also panned Microsoft Office: "I'm astonished that people are paying to basically create content." With tools such as Microsoft Word, content will be provided via free tools, he said.

While APIs meant control 10 years ago, today the URL is dominant. "In this world, the API is the URL," he said, adding that there are lots of URLs to use.

Online communities are sprouting up, and people start by building communities of content. "They very grudgingly provide access to it because if they don't, people just hack their way around it," he said.

Web marketplaces have become places for people to chat and decide which actions to take. These marketplaces, also known as communities, are growing very rapidly, Bosworth said.

Bosworth cited healthcare as an area that could be improved through web communities that organise information on specific maladies. Critical health information is currently isolated in silos, he said. The ability to diagnose illnesses would be improved if case data was accessible.

"There is no way anyone can pull together all this information," Bosworth said. "And this is killing people."

The spiralling cost of healthcare creates a requirement for improving data access. The real data is going to come from the patients as well as researchers and doctors, he said. "It's not going to come from some medical journals," Bosworth said.

An audience member pointed out that HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulations pertaining to privacy of healthcare information could be a roadblock. "HIPAA is undoubtedly an issue," Bosworth replied. But efforts are under way to enable data collection without making people vulnerable to privacy issues.

Another conference attendee concurred that managing distributed information is an issue. "One of our biggest challenges is being able to access that information in a uniform manner," said Jay Keith, a computer technician at the University of Arkansas.