Goodbye, Gears (Sniff!)

By  |  Monday, November 30, 2009 at 10:30 pm

Earlier today, I wrote about the almost-here beta of Google’s Chrome browser for OS X, and mentioned that it doesn’t support Google’s Gears technology for making Web services such as Gmail, Google Docs, and Remember the Milk work without the Web. Turns out the bad news may have less to do with Chrome and more to do with Gears.

The L.A. Times’ Mark Milian has blogged about the lack of Gears in Mac Chrome, and the fact that the upcoming, still-unfinished HTML5 standard will feature Gears-like offline features. Milian got a quote from an unnamed Google spokesman:

We are excited that much of the technology in Gears, including offline support and geolocation APIs, are being incorporated into the HTML5 spec as an open standard supported across browsers, and see that as the logical next step for developers looking to include these features in their websites.

Um, that doesn’t sound good. It falls short of a formal abandonment of Gears–which is an open standard, so it might theoretically live on even if Google lost interest. But it does appear to say that developers who are excited by Gears’ features should look to HTML5, not to Gears. HTML5 isn’t complete, though, and isn’t fully supported by any existing browser. It’s a little like a landlord greeting a prospective tenant by pointing at an empty lot across the street and talking up the skyscraper planned for that space.

Of course, Google has been dropping loud hints that Gears was a goner for awhile now. Apple’s Snow Leopard OS has been out for three months now, but as Milian notes, the standalone version of Gears for use with Firefox and Safari still doesn’t work in it. When I go to the Gears site on my Snow Leopard MacBook Pro, I don’t even get an acknowledgement that there’s a compatibility issue–the “Install Now” button just isn’t there.

Then there was week before last’s unveiling of Google’s Chrome OS. During the Q&A session at the end, I asked about the OS’s offline capabilities, and specifically asked about Gears support. I got a polite answer that didn’t address the Gears portion of my query.

In retrospect, Gears has been a dead technology walking for most of its existence. Back in 2007, when it debuted at the Wall Street Journal’s D conference, I was captivated by its potential. I helped choose it as PC World’s #1 innovation of the year and wrote a piece for Slate hailing it as a landmark. (Disclaimer: The bit in the headline about it possibly killing Microsoft was my editor’s work.)

By April of 2008, though, I was worried about the small number of services–from Google or anyone else–that used Gears, and beginning to conclude that it was less magical than I’d hoped. I was still dejected in July of this year, since very little had happened in the interim except for the addition of Gears support to Gmail.

The funny thing is, the world needs Gears–or something like Gears–more than ever. Many of us are doing a high percentage of our work in Web-based services, and their single greatest limitation is their unavailability when the Web isn’t present. With Chrome OS, Google itself is contending that the time is right for computing devices that are almost completely dependent on the Web. If Gears had matured more over the past two and a half years, and gained more support within and outside of Google, it coulda been a principal part of making all this make sense.

But apparently it won’t be. So I’m giving up rooting for it. Like Google recommends, I’m pinning my hope on HTML5. Maybe its offline support will be everything Gears could have been, but never was.

 

 

 
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7 Comments For This Post

  1. Chad Says:

    Silverlight is the way to go. We plan on converting all of our major internal business applications from HTML to Silverlight.

  2. Joe Anonymous Says:

    I’m happy to see Gears go – and hope that Silverlight is right behind.

    We’ve already seen the damage Microsoft can do to a market with their control and Google is showing every sign of being just as bad. Stick with COMPLETELY open standards like html 5.

  3. Hugh Isaacs II Says:

    “The funny thing is, the world needs Gears–or something like Gears–more than ever. Many of us are doing a high percentage of our work in Web-based services, and their single greatest limitation is their unavailability when the Web isn’t present.”

    I’ve just thought about it and someone could code a shim of sorts to support the Gears API through Flash, Silverlight and/or JavaFX.

    Example: It could check to see if the browser supports HTML5 database, or has Gears installed and if not it could just have the javascript talk to a Silverlight object (or Flash/JavaFX object) to store the data offline.

    I’m just sad to know that the Gears Audio API, Camera API and FileSystem API never got to see the light (the Notifications API is coming to Chrome so that’s no problem), these features may still come later but it’ll be a while before we see them adopted by all browsers.

    and @Joe Anonymous

    Gears came out before these HTML5 specs, Google actually intended for Gears to be replaced by HTML5, and it’s open source.

    How is making an open source project to extend the features of the browser and create an open standard bad?

  4. Backlin Says:

    Hugh Isaacs II, any one company that has created intellectual property has the right to take it out of open source at any time, without consideration from anybody else.

  5. Joe Says:

    “Gears came out before these HTML5 specs, Google actually intended for Gears to be replaced by HTML5, and it’s open source.

    How is making an open source project to extend the features of the browser and create an open standard bad?”

    Backlin gave one answer. Another answer involves Microsoft as an example – html is an open standard, yet Microsoft has managed to corrupt the web by implementing its own variation. Any time you have one company with predominant control over a ‘standard’, there’s a big chance for abuse.

    IMHO, Google has the potential to do more harm than anyone since Microsoft – maybe more. Microsoft was interested in controlling the computer market. Google’s intent is to control all intellectual property of all types from any source.

    For example, look at Google’s attempt to grab control of all copyrighted works ever printed. In fact, the started years ago scanning every document they could get their hands on and making it available without the copyright holder’s permission. They’re not trying to get legislation to legalize it (which I hope our government is smart enough to avoid).

    Or look at the amount of personal information Google collects. It could well be that no company on earth has ever had more personal information on individuals than Google – and their greed is insatiable. For example, in addition to access to your financial information (which banks and credit card companies may have), Google has access to your photographs, pictures of your home, your location at any time if you use Google Maps from a phone, your browsing habits, your purchasing habits, and so on. Heck, they probably have more information on you than the government does.

    Google is extremely dangerous.

  6. Hugh Isaacs II Says:

    @Joe

    Your argument is mostly FUD, you haven’t said much about Gears. Mostly that Google is bad, because they’re a large company.

    Gears is an open source application, it’s far from Microsofts Silverlight, Adobes Flash or anything of the like.

    If I wanted to I could add new features to Gears myself, I can’t do that with a Microsoft equivalent.

    And like I’ve said, which you’ve quoted (though I should’ve elaborated on more), Google added a lot of features to HTML5 themselves thanks to the Gears project.

    Web Workers, Offline Database, Drag and Drop, Geolocation and more features in the HTML5 spec were all thanks to Google Gears (Mozilla had a hand in the drag and drop spec though it was based off of the Gears one).

    And then getting to your off-topic argument,

    “For example, in addition to access to your financial information (which banks and credit card companies may have), Google has access to your photographs, pictures of your home, your location at any time if you use Google Maps from a phone, your browsing habits, your purchasing habits, and so on. Heck, they probably have more information on you than the government does.”

    Now I’m a heavy web user, this type of information not only does Google have access to, but also Yahoo, Microsoft, Sony and Facebook.

    I don’t care, it’s not like I’m some sort of vigilante, and when it comes to privacy in this world you’d be surprised.

    Google doesn’t even actually own the satellite that powers Google Maps (I think they lease it), Bing Maps utilizes one of the same satellites and even several armies have access to these things.

    A lot of the information Google has access to, is thanks to partners, i.e. banks and credit card companies have to allow Google to access their technologies which is an opt-in feature (Google Checkout).

    And about that knowing my location thing, aside from the camera in the sky stuff, that’s a product of the web itself, in fact if the owner of this site wanted to, they could just log your IP address and use that to locate you.

  7. Hugh Isaacs II Says:

    @Backlin

    The original “open sourced” code would still be free to use.

    This was the case with the Wine project and Crossover.

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