Google offers app dev kit for taking Web apps offline

Google Gears will give developers the tools to save browser applications on the desktop

With the official unveiling of Google Gears set for Thursday at the first ever Google Developer Day, the giant World Wide Web phenom will continue to expand its reach well beyond search. 

The Developer Day will be held simultaneously in 10 countries.

At the simplest level, Google Gears is an open source developer product that will give hosted, Web-based applications a local desktop home. In other words, Gears solves the problem of using a Web application offline.

Its key components include the ability to capture and serve up locally the resources and code that comprise a Web application, such as all the images, the logic, and the look and feel. 

The second major piece of Gears is the ability to create a local database that Web applications can access.

"This is a rich database with full text search and full transactional capabilities," said Linus Upson, director of engineering at Google.

The third feature gives developers the ability to use Gears to run JavaScript in a background task via the multithreading capabilities of multicore processors. With this capability, a developer can create a Web-based application and a desktop version that synchronize one with the other. Without this multithreading capability, if a Web application was synchronizing with the local desktop version, it would freeze the application until the synchronization was complete.

Synchronization is a must-have for any application that lives on two platforms, but any delay would be unacceptable to most users.

Beyond the straightforward product details, however, there are other bigger issues in play.

When Brent Taylor, head of Google development, says that he would like to see "an industry-wide effort to have these capabilities standardized across all browsers," Taylor is also driving Google's stake in the ground as a leader of the software shift to Web 2.0 applications, according to David Mitchell Smith, Gartner analyst.

"Google keeps pushing the envelope with browser-based applications," said Smith. The question is to what extent those Web applications are accepted in the enterprise.

Smith said companies should not overestimate its capabilities.

"What they have is a developer kit," said Smith, and every developer of every Web application will have plenty of work to create a finished product.

At the same time, Google is not the only company looking at ways to extend Web applications to the desktop.

Adobe's Apollo has a similar goal. However, while Apollo lives on the desktop and can access any local file system, Gears can access only the SQL Light database created by the application. However, the Gears API will be available in Apollo, according to Kevin Lynch, senior vice president and chief software architect at Adobe. 

According to Smith, Gears, like AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) before it, puts a lot of capabilities into the hands of developers of the Web, and IT needs to track Web application development closely to understand where the next generation of the Web is going. 

Traditional on-premises enterprise ISVs are also tracking Web capabilities intensely to see how they can embrace the new software paradigm. For its part, Microsoft will have to demonstrate the continuing value of rich, client-based desktop applications, said Smith.

As Smith says, Web 2.0 will not grow beyond gadgets and widgets unless it can establish itself as a development platform for serious, enterprise-level applications. That it cannot do unless data can be saved securely behind the firewall, can be synchronized so that only a single version exists, and is accessible offline as well as online. Gears technology appears to be going a long way toward meeting that goal.

Google Gears will be downloadable as of 4 p.m. PST at Although it is still too early to submit Gears to a standards body, according to Michele Turner, vice president of product management, marketing and developer relations at Adobe said Adobe will be a sponsor.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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