It seems clear now that the Gears technology was always intended as a blueprint for a future HTML specification. And Google hasn't been the only W3C contributor to take this "implement first, standardize later" approach. Mozilla and Opera have both implemented browser-specific CSS properties, for example, and both implementations have influenced the current formal CSS specifications.
As for Almaer, after leaving Google he would go on to lead the Mozilla Foundation's Developer Tools Lab and later headed up developer relations for Palm's HTML-centric WebOS platform. Increasingly, "lead by example" has been the watchword of the Web standards ecosystem.
Chasing the standards
If Google's voice has been especially loud in guiding the HTML5 specification, however, it should be commended for putting its money where its mouth is. Google is implementing the new standard not just in the Chrome browser, but in its Web applications as well. The search giant dropped support for Gears in Google Docs and Google Reader in May 2010, anticipating an HTML5-enabled version of each product to come.
The planned replacement for Gears, the HTML5 Web Storage API, seems to be off to a similarly rocky start. Modern browsers that implement the standard do so in ways that are often subtly inconsistent. For example, Firefox 4 supports Web storage even for HTML documents loaded from the local drive, while Internet Explorer 9 invokes Web storage only for documents loaded from an HTTP URI. IE9 also handles storage events differently than other browsers. It may be some time before Web applications that take advantage of local storage behave consistently across all clients.
How well Google manages to transition its applications from Gears to HTML5 will be an important test of the most significant revision to Web standards since 2001. Recently YouTube -- a Google subsidiary -- experimented with transitioning its streaming video service from Flash to HTML5, but relented when it determined that the Web standards-based approach would not be compatible with a broad enough range of clients. The W3C's recent decision to remove version numbering from the HTML specifications and treat HTML as a "living standard" suggests that while the HTML5 spec is nearing completion, HTML's greatest challenge may be yet to come.
This article, "Good-bye Google Gears, hello HTML5," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Track the latest developments in programming at InfoWorld.com, and for the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.