Home Google Gears Turns One: Future is in Open Standards

Google Gears Turns One: Future is in Open Standards

Google Gears, the offline web application API it debuted last year at its developer conference, is turning one this week, and to celebrate, Google will be dropping the company name from Gears. The name change is a symbolic move aimed at reinforcing Google’s commitment to working with existing standards communities and helping them to define better open standards for bridging online applications and the offline world.

Along with the name change, MySpace is announcing today at Google’s I/O Event that it will be implementing Gears into its MySpace mail feature. MySpace is the largest Gears user outside of Google itself, and further demonstrates the strong relationship between the two companies — Google already handles some of the advertising on MySpace, as well as powers the site’s search, and MySpace is the single biggest user of Google’s Open Social platform.

MySpace is using Gears to allow users to store their message archive on their computer and search it in real-time. The company will be “proactively prompting” power users with over 5,000 stored messages to opt-in to the Gears mail system, and clearly hopes that by moving mail search queries offline, it will lower the site’s computing requirements. “Operating at a scale with four to six million concurrent users a day, we are saving significant and expensive server-side resources by creating this feature utilizing Gear,” said Allen Hurff, senior vice president of engineering at MySpace in a press release.

The Year in Gears

Gears was launched in May 2007 at Google’s developer conference. Google Reader was the first in house implementation of the technology, which lets web applications go offline by syncing data to a local database. Australia-based to-do list app Remember the Milk was one of the first third-party apps to embrace Gears, and in November, Zoho Writer went offline on Gears, beating Google’s own Docs app, which wouldn’t go offline until two months ago (Documents is read/write, but Spreadsheets and Presentations are currently just read-only).

Last month, we questioned whether offline access is even necessary. After all, wrote Sarah Perez, “in today’s world, you’re never too far from an internet connection.” We concluded that offline access is important now, but less important with each passing day.

Later, we noted that there’s a difference between offline and desktop access, the latter being an important step in the evolution of web applications and the path toward mass adoption. Desktop access, such as provided by “competing” offline APIs Prism from Mozilla and AIR from Adobe, is different than Google’s “keep it in the browser” approach to bridging the desktop and online worlds.

I asked Google about AIR and Prism, and Director of Engineering Linus Upson told me that they look at Prism and AIR as single site browsers — web browsers restricted to a single web application. “We’d love to see Gears support in both of them,” said Upson. Because Gears is a browser extension, Upson told me it could theoretically be used to extend AIR or Prism and allow developers the ability to give their apps access to new web standards that AIR and Mozilla don’t yet support.

Future Pushing Open Standards

The Gears project was started internally because developers at Google were fed up with how slow browsers adopt new and exciting web standards. Browsers are generally hesitant to implement new technologies, and Google looked at Gears as a way to get access to those standards without having to wait for the browser world to catch up.

In a recent post on the Google Code blog, Gears Engineer Aaron Boodman wrote about how going forward, Gears will strive to implement web standards defined for HTML5 into Gears, giving developers access to those features while browser vendors are still playing catch up. “Gears aims to bring emerging web standards to as many devices as possible, as quickly as possible,” he wrote.

Upson told me that Google wants to see standards available in all browsers, and offering bits of HTML5 standards via Gears, which is a cross-browser extension, is the fastest way they could think to do it. It is Upson’s hope that Gears will actually help speed the adoption of web standards.

“By implementing emerging web standards, Gears is influencing what the web of tomorrow will look and act like,” Boodman wrote. Upson and VP of Product Management Sundar Pichai echoed that sentiment and told me that Google is deeply involved in helping to shape the development of future web standards at the W3C.

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

Get the biggest tech headlines of the day delivered to your inbox

    By signing up, you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy. Unsubscribe anytime.

    Tech News

    Explore the latest in tech with our Tech News. We cut through the noise for concise, relevant updates, keeping you informed about the rapidly evolving tech landscape with curated content that separates signal from noise.

    In-Depth Tech Stories

    Explore tech impact in In-Depth Stories. Narrative data journalism offers comprehensive analyses, revealing stories behind data. Understand industry trends for a deeper perspective on tech's intricate relationships with society.

    Expert Reviews

    Empower decisions with Expert Reviews, merging industry expertise and insightful analysis. Delve into tech intricacies, get the best deals, and stay ahead with our trustworthy guide to navigating the ever-changing tech market.