I just read an article from InfoWorld about Google Gears. I have sat on this post for quite a while without publishing, and then, I saw a video called “Gears and the Mashup Problem“. After that, I had to go back through and kind of re-work the post.
What is Google Gears?
Basically, Google Gears allows you to use a web application off line. For example, Google Reader is one of those applications that uses Google Gears. Reader allows you to track web sites with RSS feeds. I think of it as an inbox for web pages/content. Without Google Gears, you have to be connected to the Internet to view any new or old items from the feeds. With Google Gears, you can connect to the Internet at the airport while waiting for a plane and allow the Google Reader web application save the feed information to your computer. Then, when you get on the airplane, you could read any new items without the Internet.
I should point you to Wikipedia for more information and probably a better explanation. I have to admit that I am no expert since I have not ever developed an application for Gears or much less installed it at this point.
Comparison to Flash
Flash has been around since 1996 as an addin to the web browser to allow the browser to display animation and fancy user interfaces. In my opinion, Flash extends the capability of the browser and fills a functionality hole the same way that Google Gears does, even though they do very different things.
Now, look at the recent news in Flash arena: Sun and Microsoft don’t think that Adobe should be the only one in the market. Microsoft is working on Silverlight (for more information look on the Wikipedia). Sun is working on JavaFX (for more information look on the Wikipedia or the Planet JFX FAQ or Sun’s FAQ).
If Google Gears is successful, eventually, other companies like Microsoft and Sun are going to create their own version of the extension. Then, everyone is going to have to install all of these extensions to their browser just for normal use of the Internet.
Creating a Standard
After watching the video, this idea of a standard has become more important to me. One of the big issues the video brought out was security. I would rather have an open standard approved by every one than trust my security to a particular company or two. It would be great if we could have an open compliance-testing tool that could be run in a browser or other product to validate that it meets the standard’s security requirements.
Comparison to Cookies
Websites have had the capability to store information on browser’s computers for a long time. They do it now with cookies. If you set a preference for a website, the web page can create a cookie on your machine to remember that preference. Some sites use the cookies as tracking devices by writing a unique ID cookie on your machine. That uniquely identifies your machine from then on.
In my opinion, Google Gears is just cookies on steroids. Rather than storing just preferences or identifying information, the browser would allow the web site to store application data from the Internet and give the user access to it when the Internet is not available. I think the key difference would be that the browser would have to allow an offline version of the web application access the information stored on the hard drive.