Google has quietly pulled the plug on its browser plug-in, Gears, that enables offline use of Web-based services like Gmail and Google Docs. In a post on its Gears API Blog Friday, entitled Hello HTML5Ian Fette, of Google's Gears team, acknowledged that the company has shifted its effort away from new releases of Gears and towards bringing those offline capabilities to Web standards like HTML5.
"We're not there yet, but we are getting closer," he wrote, detailing that the latest release of Google's Chrome browser natively supports a database API similar to those in Gears and new APIs like Local Storage and Web Sockets. He promised other facets of Gears, such as the LocalServer API and Geolocation, will be incorporated into new standards and included in Chrome shortly.
Gears was greeted with enthusiasm in some Web development quarters back in 2007 when it was first announced, under the assumption that it would be used to implement a wide range of Google offline services and that other developers would follow suit. But neither ever materialized. (Google's official Gears FAQ still refers to it as a beta product "currently considered to be a developer-only release.")
The shift in focus to HTML5 seems to make sense, but by the time the new standard takes hold and offline features are implemented in every major browser, the urgency may be gone. With the increasing ubiquity of wireless networks – Wi-Fi hotspots, 3G cellular, emerging WiMAX networks and even in-flight Internet access – who will need offline services when we're always online?