Google Gears Up to Be a Player Offline

Google has created new Web software that runs both online and offline, allowing users to work just about anywhere — even in places with spotty or no Internet connections.

The new open source technology for creating offline Web applications, Google Gears, is a browser plug-in that will let people run Web applications at home or work, or in planes, trains and automobiles.

The idea, says Google, is to create a single, standardized way to add offline capabilities to Web applications.

Working Online When You’re Off

The release of Gears addresses a major concern of Web users since they began logging on to the Internet: the availability of data and applications when there’s no Internet connection available, or when a connection is slow or unreliable.

“With Google Gears, we’re tackling a key limitation of the browser in order to make it a stronger platform for deploying all types of applications and enabling a better user experience in the cloud,” said Eric Schmidt, chief executive officer of Google.

The power of the community to stretch the technology to the limits of what’s possible and ultimately emerge with an open standard could benefit everyone, Schmidt said.

Gears also provides application developers and users the ability to do more on the Web — from e-mail to customer relationship management to photo editing. Enhancements that make the browser environment more powerful are increasingly important, according to Google.

Consumer-Ready Coming Soon

The initial code was aimed at JavaScript developers who write Web applications such as AJAX, shorthand for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML. Gears is set to run on Internet Explorer on Windows; Firefox on Windows, Mac OS and Linux; and on the Safari Mac OS browser, according to Google.

“They are trying to build and push beyond the current capabilities and restrictions of the pure browsers-based model,” Jeffery Hammond, a senior analyst with Forrester Research, told LinuxInsider.

A consumer-ready release of Google Gears will be ready “within months,” the company said.

New Web Services

The new tool is likely to help bridge the gap between the latest Web services and the older world of desktop software, where data changes are stored locally on users’ machines, according to Hammond.

“The hope and goal is mixing the best of Web apps and client server apps,” Hammond said.

Gears shows Google wants to be a player in the competition for the next generation of Web surfers, Hammond noted.

“That is what is at stake here,” said Hammond. “And that is why Sun, Microsoft, Adobe, among others, are all involved.”

Google Gears engineers expressed an intention to support Linux with these capabilities, Hammond noted.

“That puts Google ahead of the game,” Hammond said.

Google is pushing the Web into new spheres of activity and posing a challenge to rival Microsoft, leader in the desktop software era, he noted.

RSS First

The first application with offline access from Google Gears is Google Readers, a Really Simple Syndication (RSS) reader. After installing the browser plug-in, users can read RSS content once offline.

Google engineers took on the task of bringing offline access to Web browsers because customers of its hosted Web applications complained about not being able to work when disconnected.

As part of the announcement, Google said Google Gears has been endorsed by the Mozilla Foundation, Flash developer Adobe Systems and Opera Software.

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