Google Gears Lets Web Apps Work Offline

The upside to Web-based applications is that, generally, they can be used anywhere a user can get Internet access and a reasonably modern Web browser: most of the time, documents, data, and the application itself are available via the Internet, so users don’t have to deal with carting around a computer, finding their files, and configuring software. The downside, of course, is that without decent Internet access, Web-based application are well-neigh useless.

With that in mind, Google had announced Google Gears, a new open source technology which aims to enable Web-based applications to work even when users don’t have access to the Internet, or when their Internet connection flaky or slow.

“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 Google CEO Eric Schmidt. “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 Gears works by supplying a framework by which Web-based applications can download and store their keyt components locally, so that the progra’s features are available even if a user is offline—and, for the most part, the Web browser application may never realize the Web-based application isn’t coming in via a live network connection. Google Gears also offers a relational database framework for storing data (like documents, photos, video, and more) locally on a user’s system, and enables applications to run asynchronous JavaScript to improve performance. Google has built a Gears-enabled version of the Google Reader feed reader as an example of how the technology can enable offline capabilities.

Although offline capabilities will be more practical for some applications than others, the technology may be a significant benefit to Google’s Web-based Docs & Spreadsheets applications, which are beginning to compete with the venerable Microsoft Office in the basic productivity arena. And as a free, open source project, the technology may find adopters elsewhere in the industry: Adobe, Opera, and Mozilla are already expressing support. “This announcement is a significant step forward for web applications,” said Mozilla CTO Brendan Eich. “We’re pleased to see Google working with open source and open standards bodies on offline Web applications.”

The beta of Google Gears is available for Winodws, Mac OS X, and Linux systems, and requires Firefox 1.5 or newer, or Internet Explorer 6.0 or newer.

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