One of the hassles of using web applications is that there must be a constant connection to the Internet. When an Internet connection is disrupted, no work can get done. Google Gears is an innovative solution to this problem. It enables offline access to programs that normally can only work online. When the Internet connection is reestablished Google Gears synchronizes the data with Google’s remote servers seamlessly.
Google Gears is a web browser plugin that has storage capabilities within a database. It also features caching and multithreading capabilities. Google Gears works with all major browsers on the Windows, Mac and Linux platforms. It is also open-source and has an application programming interface (API) that may soon become the industry standard.
Currently, Google Gears only works with Google Reader. However, the next logical web application would be Gmail, with others to follow. Google is making a smart play with this technology. In effect, it strengthens their assortment of web applications by making them behave as desktop applications. This hybrid approach will pay dividends when combined with Google Apps. It will make their applications more robust. As Google Apps hopes to take on Microsoft Office, this move may prove to be the tipping point.
The future is bright for Google Gears, as it enables Google to store massive amounts of data on user computers. As efficient as Google data centers are, it is cost-inefficient for Google to redundantly store all your music, pictures, videos, and other files on their servers when some of the files can be stored on user computers for free. Google could offload some copies to user computers, using Google Gears, while backup files are stored on their servers. This will enable Google further cost savings in their infrastructure. However, some highly robust encryption and security measures will have to be implemented to ensure that files stored on user computers remain secure from networked computers.
I can also see Google Gears implementing compute capabilities in the future. This would allow Google to offload computations from their servers to user computers. In effect, Google Gears could serve as a compute grid, in addition to being a data grid. Amazon has grid computing services for computing (EC2) and storage (S3). However, Google Gears could become monstrous competition as a compute and data grid, as it would cost Google basically nothing. Google can leverage their brand to quickly ramp up adoption of Google Gears and their grid platform could become one of the largest yet, in addition to their already formidable server farms.
All in all, Google Gears has blurred the lines between desktop and web applications. For the consumer this gives them the flexibility of anytime, anywhere usability of web applications with the untethered freedom of desktop applications.