Developer expectations run high for Google Gears

By , IDG News Service |  Software

Developers have big plans for Gears, the Google Inc. browser plug-in designed to provide offline access to Web-hosted applications.

Although Gears has only been available for about two weeks in an early-stage version, many developers have rushed to give it a test drive and brainstorm for new ways to use it.

The response to Gears reflects the rising demand for using Web-hosted applications without necessarily being connected to the Internet.

Dustin Hand is looking at Gears for a Web application he is creating for an American Red Cross chapter in Tallahassee, Florida. The application must have an offline component that can be used even if a major disaster knocks out Internet access.

The application will be used to manage the list of local Red Cross volunteers, and will contain these people's contact information along with their skills.

Once completed and implemented in the Red Cross' Capital Area Chapter of Florida, the application will be pitched for adoption in Red Cross offices nationwide.

"Ensuring that a Web application such as this works during a disaster regardless of the outside [Internet access] networks being down is of top priority," Hand, a Red Cross volunteer IT coordinator, said via e-mail.

Gears, an open source browser extension, contains three components. The first is a local server to cache and deliver "application resources" like HTML and JavaScript without a server connection. The second piece is a database that will allow for storing and accessing data from within the browser. The final component is what Google calls "a worker thread pool," designed to boost Web applications' responsiveness by carrying out operations in the background.

Before Google released Gears at the end of May, Hand was considering hosting the volunteers' database physically in the Red Cross offices for offline access.

However, the chapter lacks the infrastructure to have database access on site. Its Web hosting company could house the database, but then it would be located off site and possibly unavailable in the event of a disaster.

"Google Gears would allow us to use our existing infrastructure -- our off-site database -- in the event of Internet connectivity failure, allowing us to continue to provide expedited service to the victims," Hand wrote.

He acknowledges that Gears still needs significant improvement for usage in production applications, something Google has also made clear.

Although Gears is available to anyone as a free download, at this point it's intended mostly for developers who can give Google feedback to improve the product. Google also hopes to push Gears as an industry standard for offline access to Web-hosted applications.

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