parakey-logo.bmpFacebook has acquired Parakey, a Mountain View, Calif., startup that had been working on a new way for people to work seamlessly on applications while online and offline.

Founded by former Mozilla Firefox browser developers Blake Ross and Joe Hewitt, Parakey had worked in secrecy for two years on a project it hoped would make online life much less complex for regular people. They called their PC download “a personal operating system.”

Notably, Parakey is Facebook’s first acquisition. Financial terms of the transaction were not released.

We wrote about Parakey here, based on an early description of the company’s plans to Spectrum. It was backed with seed funding from Sequoia Capital, O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, MSD Capital, YCombinator, Thomvest, Paul Buchheit, Ron Conway and Warren Zide (see Blake Ross’ post).

Here’s how we described it:

It turns your computer in a hybrid Web site-hard drive, where you can choose what to make public online and what to keep private. Everything else is seamless between the Web and your desktop, letting you avoid the hassles that come with downloading photos, for example, and putting them up on the Web.

…Even though Parakey works inside your Web browser, it runs locally on your home computer, which allows Parakey developers to do things inside your Parakey site that a traditional Web site could not do, such as interact with your camera.…Everything you encounter while surfing — online photos, videos, tunes — you can drag right onto your Parakey page, end of story. …you can manage your content quickly and efficiently, even if you’re off-line.

Notably, however, Adobe, Microsoft and others have released their own technologies tho help developers bridge the gap between online applications and the desktop. Given Parakey’s secrecy, its difficult to tell how much its software has been duplicated by these other frameworks. However, reading the Spectrum piece, now many months old, you get the feeling Parakey has gone fairly deep.

Ross and Hewitt have joined Facebook as part of the acquisition, Facebook said in a statement. They’ll work to develop the Facebook developer platform, which has become a popular place for third-party developers to show case their applications for Facebook’s 30 million users.

Ross and Hewitt are best known as the co-founders of Firefox, downloaded more than 300 million times. Hewitt also built a popular web development tool called Firebug.

Update: Here’s more description, from (Parakey investor) O’Reilly’s blog:

The platform, written in Python, C++ and JavaScript, offers a means of building applications that merge the best of the desktop and the Web. Like desktop apps, these apps work offline, offer more privacy than pure websites, run quickly, and integrate with the system. But like Web apps, they are also more creative, visually alluring, accessible from anywhere and potentially accessible by anyone. In short, Parakey apps are designed to be both useful and social, a combination that is too rare today….What separates Parakey from others in this space is that we’re building not just the platform but also the first set of applications on top of it….

Update: Ross has an early notable observation about Facebook, “From what I’ve seen so far, it is truly amazing. For instance, all the data is stored in a sqlite database that runs on Mark’s iPhone.”

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