Google Gears Going, Going, Gone?

Google GearsThe web has been awash with rumors about Google Gears for the past week or two. It appears Google has quietly dropped development of the system.

Google Gears was released as a browser plug-in in May 2007. It provides a number of useful facilities primarily for offline functionality:

  • a local server for caching and serving applications when offline
  • a SQLite database module for local storage
  • a WorkPool module that allows JavaScript thread-like asynchronous processing
  • a desktop module for OS integration, e.g. shortcut creation
  • a geolocation module for creating location-aware applications.

Great stuff … but a number of issues have surfaced:

  • The last version to appear was 0.5 in November 2008. It’s rare for a Google project to have such a slow release schedule.
  • Gears is not supported in Mac versions of Google’s Chrome browser.
  • Relatively few products have adopted Gears.

However, the biggest reason for sedate progress is HTML5 — the new standard offers many of the facilities introduced by Google Gears. According to Linus Upson, Google’s engineering director, Gears’ time has come and gone. They will continue to support the technology for compatibility reasons, but the system will not be updated or improved:

We’re very focused on moving HTML 5 forward, and that’s where we’re putting all of our energy. Gears has accomplished its mission very well, in getting these capabilities into HTML 5.

The team that designed Gears was also instrumental in designing the HTML 5 versions of those APIs. You can almost think of what’s in HTML 5, with app cache, and database, and those things, as essentially Gears version 2, and that’s how we view it.

We want to move all applications to just use standards based HTML 5 APIs, and not focus on Gears going forward. Now that we’re a browser vendor, we can help move HTML 5 forward not as a plug-in, but as part of Chrome.

I think it’s a wise decision. Few web developers would rely on a third-party plug-in when a standards-based alternative is available. However, HTML5 support remains patchy and there’s no guarantee Microsoft will adopt it in IE. Offline functionality in web applications is some years away at best.

Is Google right to drop Gears? Have you developed an application that uses the plug-in? Do you trust browser vendors to fully implement HTML5 at the earliest opportunity?

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  • mandarin

    sounds reasonable for me. but it will cause some headaches for some, who invested in developing an offline version of a webapp. i installed gears for three reasons: wordpress, istockphoto, google wave(!).

  • NetNerd85

    Yay!, Google Chrome next to go please =)

  • donotthink

    Is all good, I think Gears was part of the Proof-of-Concepts floating around that forced a change in how one thinks about web apps.

    Now, Opera has a good thing going with Unite, and with standardization on the interfaces brewing in the W3 corridors, this has definitely not gone away, rather it is maturing and will be available in more standard terms soon.

    I think :-)

  • http://icoland.com/ glenngould

    @Craig:

    I was not aware HTML 5 offers offline storage database. What does this actually mean? Where can I read more about it?

    How is the following code HTML? Is it javascript?

    var db = openDatabase(“notes”, “”, “The Example Notes App!”, 1048576);

    (From W3C page http://www.w3.org/TR/offline-webapps/)

  • http://www.pcbunk.net XtrEM3

    i agree that this is a wise decision. there is no reason to continue a third-party plugin when the browser has the functionality built-in…it only leads to confusion IMO. on a related note, i’m looking forward to html5 being standard, i’m glad google is making wave in html5 to push the adoption of html5 nearer.

  • JoshTime

    Hopefully, Firefox and Google Chrome will be used by the majority of users. But, I still see a lot of die-hard Microsoft fans that will not touch anything non-microsoft. Also, many libraries, schools, and public computers still use Internet Explorer since it is easier to have restrictions on.

    Maybe Internet Explorer 11 will finally support HTML but that will be a while.

  • arena

    wordpress using it !