One of the biggest problems that have plagued a lot of new, cool web applications is that they are not available when you’re not connected to the internet. That might seem like a silly thing to say, however certain types of applications lend themselves to being used all the time in an online environment, so when you’re not connected it is a real pain.
Google have decided that its a good time to fix this problem by releasing a product known as Google Gears. The Google Gears product hopes to solve the ‘offline web application’ problem by providing a browser plugin for Windows, Linux and Macintosh which enables a web application to be tolerant of being offline.
The first public application to see the benefits of the new Google Gears is the web based feed reading application named Google Reader. After installing Google Gears, it’s now possible to disconnect from the internet and continue using Google Reader as if you were connected. After reconnecting to the internet, the changes that were made to the offline data are shipped back to the online version of your Google Reader data and everything continues as normal.
The recent release of Google Gears must come as a bit of a blow to companies like Joyent who released a product in March known as Slingshot. The Slingshot product provides similar capabilities to Google Gears, however it is limited to the Ruby on Rails development platform. I expect it won’t be long before someone provides a Ruby on Rails wrapper over Google Gears and it starts to gain momentum in the development world.
Right at this moment, the idea of providing an offline web application doesn’t appeal to me. I’m connected to the internet all day at work and its available when I get home as well. That attitude would likely change a lot if I were the type of person who travels a lot of has sporadic access to the internet; then it would really shine. I expect some pretty exciting development in this space in the very near future.