Google Goes Offline With 'Gears' - InformationWeek

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Google Goes Offline With 'Gears'

Flanked by partners, Google offers new APIs and focuses on its plans to move further into Microsoft's desktop space.

At the San Jose Convention Center on Thursday, as Google Developer Day 2007 gets under way in the United States, Google engineering VP Jeff Huber plans to demonstrate how one of his company's online applications, Google Reader, can be used without an Internet connection.

"Ajax-based applications, browser-based applications, are great and have many, many wonderful properties," said Huber. "But we found that, every so often, people get on airplanes."

Google's recently disclosed purchase of browser security startup GreenBorder suddenly makes a lot more sense: Google is moving into Microsoft territory, the desktop.

Google Developer Day 2007 is taking place around the world in 10 different countries: Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

In conjunction with the commencement of Google Developer Day 2007 in Sydney, Australia, Google on Wednesday plans to announce Google Gears, a free, open-source multi-platform JavaScript application programming interface (API) that lets Web applications work offline.

"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, CEO of Google, in a statement. "We believe strongly in the power of the community to stretch this new technology to the limits of what's possible and ultimately emerge with an open standard that benefits everyone."

Google hopes Gears will become the standard for adding offline capabilities -- data storage, application caching, and multithreading -- to online applications.

As part of Google's announcement, representatives of Adobe Software, Mozilla Corp., and Opera Software have expressed their support for Google Gears. Kevin Lynch, senior VP and chief software architect at Adobe, welcomed the addition of "a standard cross-platform, cross-browser local storage capability" and said that the Google Gears API would work with Apollo, Adobe's new rich Internet application development platform. Brendan Eich, CTO at Mozilla Corp., and Håkon Wium Lie, CTO of Opera Software, each expressed their appreciation of Gears as a way to extend the Web browser and make it more useful.

David Mitchell Smith, Web analyst for Gartner, characterized the announcement as particularly significant. "The idea of taking Web applications offline is big," he said. While Google Gears can be viewed as a competitive move against Microsoft, he said that's not the only valid frame of reference.

More broadly, Google Gears weakens the case for rich Internet applications. "Rich clients become less compelling the more the Web applications continue to grow," said Smith. "Ajax has certainly taken a bite out of the opportunities that RIA developers thought they had."

Huber acknowledges that the browser isn't necessarily the best platform for every application. "There will certainly be cases that make sense for separate clients," he said. "For example, we have Google Earth as a separate client. The makes sense because we need access to the 3-D accelerator and the machine. But in general, we'd like to make these applications basically as simple as using Google Search. We find more and more cases of these applications being very popular and making a lot of sense."

One reason for this is that many users have become impatient with the hassles of managing desktop applications, particularly during hardware upgrades. "I think the growth of the Internet has really reflected the difficulties people have running desktop software," said Chris DiBona, open source programs manager at Google.

Google's online word processing and spreadsheet applications, Google Docs & Spreadsheets, represent obvious candidates for offline use. "We're not launching those just yet," said Huber, who emphasized that Google Gears will be useful not just to Google but to anyone developing browser-based applications for the desktop or for mobile phones. "This is really the beginning of that process. This is the initial release to get it out to the world so lots more people can get their hands on it."

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