What’s powering Web apps: Google waving goodbye to Gears, hello to HTML5


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Of all the things Google is really good at, patience isn’t necessarily one of them.

To prove Web applications like Gmail and Google Docs could be as sophisticated as desktop apps, Google created its own desktop software a couple years ago -- a small utility called Gears. Once it’s installed on a user’s computer, features like offline caching of e-mails and drag-and-drop file uploading would be unlocked.

Many of those features are beginning to be adopted by HTML5, the next revision to the standard programming language that powers the Web.


For the time being, Gears will still feature a number of tools that can be opened using Firefox and Internet Explorer. The technology is built into Google’s Chrome browser.

As Google prepares to release its first beta version of Chrome for the Mac (a developer preview has been available for months), the company is letting the sun set on its Gears project.

‘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,’ wrote a Google spokesman in an e-mail.

That’s great, but HTML5 isn’t ready yet, and commercially available browsers don’t support it.

Firefox and Apple’s Safari have already implemented geolocation in some versions, which allows the browser to access an approximate GPS location and pinpoint your device on a map -- a major win for mobile apps.

A big reason for not including Gears in Chrome for Mac in the interim, as we wait for HTML5 to solidify, is a technical hurdle.


The stand-alone Gears isn’t compatible with Snow Leopard, the newest version of the Mac operating system. A Google spokesman indicated earlier this month in an interview that it’s a problem with the new system, not with lazy development.

A change in Snow Leopard lodged a stick between the gears, rapidly increasing Google’s focus on HTML5 -- which will no doubt be implemented in next year’s release of Google Chrome OS. While Gears won’t work on newer Apple computers, HTML5 will assuredly be ready to go in Mac browsers even before a final draft of the language is complete.

Why? Well, Apple’s David Hyatt is an editor on the HTML5 specification, along with Google’s Ian Hickson.

Updated, 9:56 p.m.: The Google spokesman wrote to clarify in a follow-up e-mail, ‘We’re continuing to support Gears so that nothing breaks for sites that use it. But we expect developers to use HTML5 for these features moving forward as it’s a standards-based approach that will be available across all browsers.’

-- Mark Milian

Image credit: Associated Press