Google is rolling out a technology designed to overcome the major drawback faced by all web-based applications: the fact that they don't work without an internet connection.Google Gears is an open source technology for creating offline web applications that is being launched today at Google's annual Developer Day gatherings around the world.
"With Google Gears, we're tackling the 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," Google CEO Eric Schmidt said in a statement.The Google Gears technology is designed to be used for web applications such as email and word or image processing.While it can be used with non-Google applications, it's clear that the web search and advertising giant will be the major beneficiary of what is expected to be an enthusiastic take up.That enthusiasm is not expected to extend to Microsoft. Google has already invaded the software company's turf, offering Google Apps - its package of workplace programs - as an alternative to Microsoft's Office suite.To date, the Google replacement proposition hasn't been appealing to large private and public sector organisations partly because of the lack of offline access.
Launched in February, Google's suite of web-based programs includes a word processor, email, a spreadsheet and a calendar.Google said it would charge corporate customers $US50 ($61) a year for the suite, about a tenth of what Microsoft charges for its Office package.But there haven't been many takers. In February, it was reported that the Commonwealth Bank suspended a trial of Google Apps, which it was looking at rolling out for its 50,000-strong workforce.
The Gears technology promises to give Google a better platform from which to go after Microsoft's very lucrative Office franchise."This is a core piece of technology that we're releasing to the community to really help move the industry forward on solving this problem," Google Australia's senior product manager Carl Sjogreen told smh.com.au."For your average web user, the end goal is that basically it's seamless whether you're connected to the internet or not."
He described Gears as a "critical missing piece in the evolution of making the web and the browser a platform for all applications".The search for a way to give web-based programs the stability and portability of desktop applications has been going on for over a decade.Several organisations, including Mozilla Corporation, Adobe and Opera Software, have been working on a similar project and are backing the Google push.Mozilla has already flagged that its upcoming Firefox 3 browser will support offline applications.To start the ball rolling, Google has "Gears-enabled" its RSS feed reader, Google Reader.
After downloading the Gears plug-in, the browser will automatically determine whether a user is online or offline. If it's the latter, the next time the user is online, the application will synchronise with the server.Google says it will work with others in the web community to help develop an industry standard that will further facilitate the rollout of hybrid programs which work both online and offline."It's something that we're making this available in its early stages and in an open source environment so that everyone can help test its capabilities and help improve upon it," said Mr Sjogreen."As more and more people are depending on web applications to manage their lives and get information about what's going on, it becomes and increasing problem when you can't access those applications when you're offline."