A Fresh Look At Google Gears

by Mark Hendrickson on October 4, 2008

There’s a common misconception that Google’s “next-gen” web platform called Gears only (or even primarily) enables offline capabilities for web applications. The truth of the matter is that Google’s ambitions are far greater, and the browser extension’s capabilities are more multifarious, than this reputation suggests. MySpace’s implementation of Gears, which has little to do with offline functionality, is a perfect example.

Gears has been available for over a year now, with the first version released not too far back in May 2007. You can see the whole version history here, but essentially Gears has undergone four releases, each adding incrementally to its capabilities. The last was released this past August, with another released a couple months earlier in June.

The overall goal of Gears is to bestow upon web applications much of the same functionality enjoyed by desktop apps. And it’s doing so through a browser extension that can be installed for a range of browsers (Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer) on a range of operating systems (Windows, Windows Mobile, Mac OS, and Linux). With the release of Google’s own Chrome browser, some users don’t even have to install Gears; it just comes pre-loaded, making Chrome a super browser of sorts from the get-go.

The long-term consequence of this technology is clear: as browsers become more and more powerful with the assistance of initiatives like Gears, there become fewer and fewer reasons to install and run desktop applications (and therefore splurge on Windows and Office, to name two Microsoft cash cows oft identified as dying breeds).

But before that can happen, Gears and similar technologies need to truly enable desktop-like functionality within the browser (or more accurately, they need to enable desktop-like functionality for web applications that traditionally operate only within the browser).

So where do we stand today? Currently Gears can be used by developers to improve web applications in the following ways (on both desktop and mobile devices)....