Google has released a browser plug-in called Gears, which enables people to use web apps while offline. The technology behind the plug-in gives developers the ability to implement offline functionality into their browser-based web apps. Gears is an open source collaboration between Google, Adobe, Mozilla, and Opera.

We’ve written many times before about the need for offline web app access, and in February ’07 we reported that Mozilla will offer offline web access in Firefox 3. At that time, February, Robert O’Callahan from Mozilla responded in the comments that “yes, Web apps need to be reengineered for this, and no, no-one (including Google) has announced they will do so — although we hope they will! […]”. Well Google has basically just announced it today, meaning the working relationship between Google and Mozilla gets even cozier.

And guess who is most at risk with this announcement? Yes, Microsoft. Google after all has many of the top ‘best of breed’ web apps now, and Mozilla wants more market share against Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser. Adobe and Microsoft are also engaged in an ongoing battle for Rich Internet App supremacy, which probably explains why Adobe is involved in Gears. And of course, this will have major implications for the Web Office – where Google Apps is directly competing against Microsoft Office (whether Google admits it or not!).

This is all about making the browser a stronger platform. Via Sydney Morning Herald, comes this statement from Google CEO Eric Schmidt: “With Google Gears, we’re tackling the key limitation of the browser in order to make it a stronger platform for deploying all types of applications and enabling a better user experience.”

However, Ryan Stewart (who just started at Adobe) also tells us what Google Gears means for Rich Internet Applications and Apollo.

CNET has more technical details about today’s announcement:

“The initial code is aimed at JavaScript developers who write Ajax-style Web applications. It runs on Internet Explorer on Windows; Firefox on Windows, Mac OS and Linux; and on the Safari Mac OS browser.

Google expects to have a consumer-ready release of Google Gears, which will be under 1 megabyte in size, “within months.” It also expects to submit the code to a standards body so that it will eventually be built into all standards-compliant browsers […]”

See also O’Reilly Radar and Ajaxian.com for the nitty gritty tech details.

The first web app to utilize Gears is Google Reader, meaning users who have downloaded the browser plug-in can check their RSS feeds while offline. But you can see from a recent Read/WriteWeb poll that there is a lot of demand for offline access in other Google web apps: