Google Gears Allows Offline Web Development

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 05-30-2007
At Google's Developer Day event on May 31, the company is expected to announce Google Gears, an open-source technology for creating offline Web applications, said Bret Taylor, head of Google developer programs.

Taylor described Google Gears as a new browser extension that the company is making available in its early stages so that everyone can test its capabilities and limitations and help improve it. As with other technologies Google has produced, the company's long-term hope is that Google Gears can help the industry as a whole move toward a single standard for offline capabilities that all developers can use, Taylor said.

Indeed, Google intends to work with the WHATWG (Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group) to introduce Google Gears as a standard, said Sundar Pichai, director of Product Management at Google, based in Mountain View, Calif.

"We'll probably be working with the WHAT Working Group," Pichai said. "The big thing we are trying to do is add this phenomenal capability to the browser. We want to see this accepted as a standard."

Taylor said he believes Google Gears marks an important step in the evolution of Web applications because it addresses the issue of availability of data and applications when there's no Internet connection available, or when a connection is slow or unreliable.

Google is offering Google Gears as a free, fully open-source technology, Taylor said. As a first example of what is possible, the Google Reader feed reader is currently available with Gears-enabled offline capabilities. However, the Gears technology will work with any Web applications, not just Google applications.

Taylor said part of the motivation for making Google Reader the first application to be Gears-enabled was that a developer on the Google Reader team who catches the bus to work wanted to be able to read his feeds on the bus.

"We're launching Gears as a developer technology and also an open-source technology and we're working with some large partners, including Adobe, Mozilla and Opera," Taylor said.

Othman Laraki, product manager for Google Gears, said that as Web applications have become such an "increasingly important" way for users to get key information, "one of the most challenging limitations is that Web apps don't work when you're not connected."

Thus, Google Gears is "a browser extension that works across major browsers and platforms so users can work while disconnected," Laraki said. "We're trying to make it as much of an evolutionary thing as possible so that you can work the same way whether the 'Net is present or not."

Click here to read more about Google's use of open-source code.

Taylor said Google Gears builds on the Web's existing programming model by introducing new JavaScript APIs for data storage, application caching and multithreading features. With these APIs, developers can bring offline capabilities to even their most complex Web applications. Google Gears works with all major browsers on the Windows, Mac and Linux platforms, he said.

Taylor also said Google will be working closely with all members of the Web community to converge upon a standard so that developers have one consistent API for offline functionality.

"We're very excited to be collaborating with Google to move the industry forward to a standard cross-platform, cross-browser local storage capability," Kevin Lynch, senior vice president and chief software architect at Adobe Systems, headquartered in San Jose, Calif., said in a statement. "The Gears API will also be available in Apollo, which enables Web applications to run on the desktop, providing developers with consistent offline and local database solutions."

"This announcement is a significant step forward for Web applications," Brendan Eich, chief technology officer at Mozilla, based in Mountain View, Calif., said in a statement. "We're pleased to see Google working with open source and open standards bodies on offline Web applications."

"Opera and Google share the common goal of making Web applications richer and more robust," said Håkon Wium Lie, chief technology officer at Opera Software, based in Oslo, Norway, said in a statement. "Developers have long desired the functionality and flexibility Google Gears can offer browsers. Because Opera has always prioritized giving our users what they want, we're excited to work with Google to extend the reach and power of Web applications."

Although the Google Developer Day event kicks off in the United States on May 31, because the event is being held in 10 cities, the news of Google's new technology began to appear on the evening of May 30, in tandem with keynotes and sessions being held in different time zones. For the event, Google engineers and product managers will be discussing the future of Web applications with more than 5,000 developers at 10 locations around the world—Sydney, Australia; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Madrid, Spain; Hamburg, Germany; Mountain View, Calif.; Tokyo; Beijing; Moscow; Paris; and London. Taylor said only 1,000 of the expected 5,000 developers involved will be in the Bay Area.

Guru Jakob Nielsen offers advice on designing applications for usability. Click here to watch the video.

In addition to Google Gears and the Gears-enabled offline Google Reader, the search giant is also announcing the release of the Google Mashup Editor, an experimental online code editor for building mashups using a simple markup language. This technology is aimed at developers who are familiar with HTML and JavaScript.

The Google Mashup Editor offers a simpler way to deploy AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) user interface components on top of existing feeds and Google Web services. By substituting extended XHTML (Extensible HTML) tags for entire blocks of JavaScript code and hosting the mashups on Google servers, the Google Mashup Editor speeds mashup creation and fosters more powerful, more interesting Web applications, Taylor said

Google also will showcase a new product called the Google Mapplets API that the company released on May 29 at the Where 2.0 conference. Google Mapplets enable users to customize Google Maps with mini-applications from Google and third-party developers. These applications might provide news, real estate listings or weather reports, for example, Taylor said. The Google Mapplets API combines the Google Maps API and the Google Gadgets API.

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