When Google ships the Mac version of its Chrome browser later this month, it will arrive without Gears, the company says.
Google is phasing out Gears, its software for powering things like offline access, geolocation and local data caching in web apps, in favor of similar browser technologies being driven by the wider adoption of HTML5.
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.
Milian also reports that Google arrived at this decision partially because of a technical hurdle: Gears won’t run properly on Snow Leopard, Apple’s latest operating system. Gears is built into Chrome on other platforms, and Google will continue to support Gears as long as it’s out there.
This is big news for web apps, which are rapidly becoming more powerful as browsers adopt HTML5 and other proposed standards designed to increase their functionality.
By and large, this move was expected — Gears was always intended to simply fill in the gap between the forward-thinking design of productivity apps like Gmail and Google Docs and the capabilities of most browsers. Now that browsers have largely caught up to the promises of HTML5 (except for IE, of course), there’s less of a need to patch today’s web to meet tomorrow’s needs.
Google released a geolocation API for laptops to Gears, its toolkit for creating cross-browser functionality. This follows its first foray into geolocation, available only for Windows Mobile. While the major feature of Gears is to give applications offline version capabilities, this release brings the possibility of grabbing the location from most major browsers.
The new functions use Skyhook’s Loki technology to map the WiFi signals in your area to your location. The result is highly accurate in urban areas. If this all sounds familiar, you may remember that Mozilla released Geode, a similar plugin, earlier this month.
As we discussed at the recent WhereCamp, location has some problems right now. WiFi locating is not a good long-term solution, but it’s useable now. For applications that require a location, you can save your user’s the step of typing in their address or intersection by offering to find it with Gears or Geode. Plus, now that we have the interface for accessing the data, we’ll be ready when the real solution comes.
Gears is completely free, both for developers and end users, and available for Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer.
Gears kicked off its first release for Apple’s Safari browser Monday.
Gears for Safari follows versions already in every other mainstream browser except Opera. Down the list, it means Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari and Chrome can unplug its ethernet and wifi cord and still access a local copy of sites like Google Docs, Google Reader, Zoho.com or Remember the Milk.
As we’ve also pointed out in a prior post, it makes a pretty decent way to download web applications to your desktop too.
Gears is the HTML 5 standards compliant add-on for browsers too slow to pick up on HTML 5′s offline downloading feature. In fact, Gears is even ahead of HTML 5 in some features both pressing HTML 5 on to keep up and also making the feature’s development a little less necessary.
To offline a site or a site feature, Gears is dependent on users downloading and installing Gears (in every browser except Chrome, where Gears is built in) and on developers to integrate the Gears API into their web site code.
While initiated by Google, Gears was offloaded to the open source community (ie. dropped the “Google” from its title) earlier this year in an effort to kickstart development, further standards and promote adoption. It’s not particularly clear how much of Gears is still Google. At the very least, Gears releases are still announced on Google’s blog.
Nobody at Webmonkey expected to wake up and experience an internet game change today, but with Google’s semi-accidental launch of the Chrome browser Sunday, that’s exactly what we got. We barely had enough time to clean up the coffee spittle on our monitors.
It started with a very candid and thoughtful comic. It used drawn characters of Chrome designers to eloquently describe the browser’s inner workings. If it wasn’t in comic form, it would read like a computer science lecture, and you’d be asleep in the time it takes to say “garbage collection.” However, in comic form, the technical document gently exposes you us to just what we’re getting into.
So what are we getting into with Chrome? Perhaps web 3.0.
The way it manages tabs, the way it treats errors, its blinding speed — when Firefox 3 was released, it made Firefox 2 seems slow. Chrome does the same thing to Firefox 3. There’s no doubt this is a game changer in the world of web development. Even the surprise announcement lent a hand to making this as big of news as web news can get.
It may sound hyperbolic, but there is some serious machinery going on under the hood. Let’s break it down.
Chrome — This is the first browser that incorporates the technology used in your desktop. Chrome basically acts like an operating system by treating tabs like applications. Each tab has its own protected memory, permissions and runs as its own process. If one misbehaves, you can pull up the Chrome task manager, see the processor and memory usage of the misbehaving site and close it on the spot.
This is similar to what Windows NT, and later XP, did with its protected memory in 2001. Protected memory was a popular selling point because it stabilized applications and allowed for better multi-threading. The same benefits apply to the multiple tabs of Chrome.
Gears — Because Gears has been around for over a year, there isn’t much to Gears that hasn’t already been said. Gears adapts some of the cooler functions of HTML 5.0 standards and adds an offline element to web surfing. It acts as the web developer friendly section of the Chrome package, enabling web developers to design faster and more powerful web applications. It is only fitting the technology is built into the browser.
Webkit — Webkit is the only non-Google open source project included in the browser package. It stems from an Linux browser named Konqueror and, most recently, used for Apple’s Safari browser. Developers claimed the memory management and speed were among its top sellers. They also claimed the last thing web developers need is another rendering engine.
They might be right. However, it is a bit of a slap in the face to Mozilla’s Gecko rendering engine. Given the financial and collaborative relationship Google has had with Mozilla in the past, it must be a hard pill to swallow in Firefox-land.
For its heavily asynchronous web applications to run better on a browser, Google acknowledged the browser needed to be redesigned from the ground up. It could’ve asked Mozilla to comply, and most likely it would have been rejected by Mozilla. Instead, it did the heavy lifting itself.
Much of the industry is now scrambling to try and figure out the Microsoftian threat Google poses. On the surface, Google is trying to redefine your window to the internet. When you consider how it deals with memory and how it protects your processes, it is, for all intents and purposes, the first successful combination of browser and operating system.
That said, how much of a threat can Google be if I (or you, or your neighbor) can jump in and write code for it? Releasing it under the BSD license, and even encouraging Internet Explorer and Firefox to steal code directly from the source, proves that Google wants nothing other than the capability to make their online properties more powerful. Google co-founder Larry Page sees Chrome as a way to increase competition and empower innovation in the long run.
“If there was only one choice [of browser], there wouldn’t be a lot of innovation out there,” Page proclaimed at a Chrome presentation Tuesday. “The web is really our connection to you, so it’s really important to us”
Sergey Brin, Google’s other co-founder, agrees: “Our business does well if there is a lot of healthy web usage … Our business does well if [people] are using the web and the internet a lot. Any usage of the internet through Chrome is a business win for us.”
The Chrome release and the way it treats web pages as applications is so innovative, it might have jumped years ahead of iterative advances from current browser offerings. It changes the game.
To the competition’s advantage, users may be slow to flock to Chrome. However, once they take it for a test drive, the speed of AJAX applications alone will set the bar high. It puts some heavy pressure on the browser competition to catch-up overnight.
Apparently, Mozilla developers were given an early peak at Chrome prior to the launch. How did it go? I’m sure the thoughts of threats swimmed in the minds of Firefox developers who have been working very hard on advancing browser technology for the last five years. Luckily, when you put any group of engineers together, the one common bond is on the coolness of technology. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Firefox drawing board looks a little different today.
In fact, it wouldn’t be a surprise if it didn’t start incorporating the groundbreaking work done on the Chrome and V8 source — something Chrome developers want badly. They’re eager for this technology to hit the street, and they don’t care too much how it gets there.
What Internet Explorer will do with this information is anyone’s guess. Their closed source browser sports some definite “me too” functions and is advancing in speed, but Microsoft has real potential to incorporate the Chrome multi-processing technology in its Windows operating system. More likely, Microsoft will take the ideas and develop its own counter attack, however slowly it may take.
There is one fact with literally no doubt — the web has become a whole lot faster, more powerful and mind-numbingly fast overnight.