File Under: Software & Tools

Fluid and Gears Closes in on Web App Freedom

I’ve been dreaming of the day I can finally press the delete button on Microsoft Word for good. Nothing against Word, per se. It has served me well enough throughout the years. I think it is the challenge and change of view I’m looking for. My quest for a replacement started when I realized most everything I do on Word could also be done in Google Docs or Zoho …for free. However, the major hurdle of any web application is its reliance on an internet connection.

Now, with Gears recent beta release on Webkit-powered browsers, and webkit-powered Fluid for Mac which allows you to download local copies of websites to your desktop, have my dreams of keeping a desktop copy of a web app come true?

Almost.

We’re so close, I can taste it. As it stands, I have a local copy of Google Docs which allows me to unplug from the internet and open, search, edit, tag, organize and save all of my documents.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Download and install Fluid
  2. Download and install Gears for Webkit
  3. Launch Fluid and insert “http://docs.google.com” in the URL field. Name it whatever you want. Submit and wait for Fluid to perform its magic. When it asks, launch the new Site Specific Browser (SSB).
  4. You’ll see a warning page telling you “Sorry, but this browser does not support web word-processing.” It’s wrong. Click on the Docs logo on the top left of the page.
  5. There, you’ll see Google Docs in all its glory. It should start synchronizing automatically. If it doesn’t, click on the green arrow at the top right of the screen to synchronize your files.

Once synchronized, unplug the internet. You now have an offline version of Google Docs. Here is where it comes short: now is when you’ll notice the New, Upload and Share buttons are grayed out. Same thing if you dive into presentations, spreadsheets and web forms. Also affects Zoho’s Gears-enabled office suite. Apparently, these document creation functions are unsupported on Gears. Tough luck for us, kids.

There is a workaround for creating new docs. Before you unplug the internet, create a bunch of untitled blank documents and put them all in a folder labeled “New.” Now, when you’re live-blogging a conference, you don’t have to depend on the shoddy, overloaded network to create a new Google Doc. Just click into your New folder, and grab an already generated blank doc. However, it’s just a workaround and you can run out of blank templates pretty easily and have to resort to another word processor. There is no workaround for importing your Word, PDF or other docs either. Sigh.

We’re off to download OpenOffice for now. This isn’t to say this method will only work for Docs. In fact, it is a pretty cool way to offline every Gears-enabled web app.

I recommend creating a Google Reader client. The one drawback of Reader was the lack of a downloadable client. Using Fluid and Gears, that is no longer an issue. Follow the steps above, but use http://www.google.com/reader as the URL instead of the Docs URL.

For Windows users, Mozilla’s Gecko-powered, multi-platform Prism application does the same thing as Fluid, but doesn’t currently support Gears.

The next version of Safari built in Fluid’s SSB-creating functionality.

All of these technologies are open source. In fact, developers on Fluid’s FriendFeed room are buzzing with the inherent opportunities surrounding the two technologies. If you’re a web developer and share my same dream of freeing web apps from the web, get involved and have at it.

We’ve also moved a copy of this page to the Webmonkey wiki. If you have any other methods you want to contribute, hop over to the article and write it up.

Authors Note: This article was updated on Friday to include more detail on SSB’s and a new document workaround

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