May 31, 2007 3:40 PM PDT

Google Gears churns toward Microsoft

SAN JOSE, Calif.--Google just accelerated its rivalry with Microsoft, though Google executives still deny there is a competition over who will dominate in an increasingly Web-based computing world.

The search giant--which has evolved into an advertising company and now an "apps" provider--released software late on Wednesday called Google Gears at its first official Developer Day held in 10 cities worldwide. Gears is a browser extension that will enable people to access their Web applications when working offline. It works on all major browsers and operating systems, and can be used by developers to make any application offline-enabled, not just Google programs.

Not only is Google strengthening its presence in the developer community, it is pleasing many different factions by releasing Gears as open-source software, rather than proprietary. Microsoft has been criticized for locking developers into its Windows operating system and other Microsoft software. Microsoft has also been struggling to figure out how best to respond to the threat that Web-hosted applications pose to its desktop business.

And for consumers and corporations, Google Gears knocks down a perceived barrier in competing with desktop applications. While users of Microsoft applications, such as the popular Office suite, can work in the software and access data stored on their computer at any time, Google's Web-based applications, such as Gmail, require a user to be connected to the Internet. That will change now that Gears has arrived.

Google Developer Day

"I don't think we think of Microsoft," Google co-founder Sergey Brin told reporters at the Google Developer Day. "It was a need we had...it sucks to not be able to work offline."

Jeff Huber, vice president of engineering at Google, dismissed the idea that the lack of offline capability had hindered adoption of Google Apps, which includes Web-based calendar, e-mail, chat, word processing and spreadsheet software. "We've seen tremendous interest and huge uptake of Google Apps," he said. An offline computing functionality was just a requested feature, he said.

Competing in the long term
Several Google watchers said the browser plug-in is a significant step in the evolution of Web-based applications, particularly with regard to the offline issue.

"Google Gears will address limitations with Web-based computing," said Greg Sterling, principal of consultancy Sterling Market Intelligence. "It positions (Google's applications unit) more squarely as a Microsoft competitor than before. You get the sense they are aggressively building a developer community around them, like Microsoft has."

Sterling said he doesn't think Gears will have any near-term impact on Microsoft Office market share, but it could shake things up in the long term, particularly because Google applications are free and Microsoft charges for its software.

"People like the collaboration aspect of Google Docs & Spreadsheets, but there's the belief that these applications aren't yet (feature-) rich enough to be substitutions for Office," he said.

"Gears ratchets the collar Google has around Microsoft's throat," said Stephen Arnold, author of The Google Legacy. "Each innovation takes some of the oxygen away from the behemoth in Redmond. If Google exerts more pressure, Microsoft might become more confused."

The first Gears-enabled program from Google is Reader, which is an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed reader for blogs and news items. Users who install Gears can then manually download the latest feeds from the Web onto their computer to be read offline. The goal is for programs to synchronize automatically, without users even knowing it is happening, Huber said.

An engineer created a Gears version of Google Reader as part of the company's program in which employees can work on their own projects for 20 percent of their work week. Bret Taylor, head of Google's developer product group, said the engineer wanted to be able to access Google Reader while commuting on the company shuttle, which often has "flaky" Internet access.

Google officials wouldn't say what the next Google Gears application would be, but hinted at it. "I am personally looking forward to Gmail and Calendar working offline," said Huber in his keynote address.

About 1,500 people attended Google's first official Developer Day in San Jose, Calif. That was more than anticipated, so the company had to move the event from its main campus to the San Jose Convention Center. The company brought some of its geek-friendly culture to the bland convention center, including a foosball table, pool table, bean bag chairs, snacks and beverages.

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21 comments

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Google applications are free
err, yeah, so is Open Office.
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
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They have to be
to compete with Office 2007. They are polished turds both google and open office. But hey they are free.
Posted by Lindy01 (443 comments )
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This may explain MS's patent initiative
Wow! So now we can perhaps see more clearly what drove MS to recently declare that free software violates more than 200 MS patents in one way or another.

Google was about to leap the applications barrier to entry by going Netscape one better--by turning Web-based apps into desktop apps! Egad! The wow is now, and it ain't Windows Vista.

But wait! Google might be stymied if the free software involved can be blocked by patent litigation. I suggest it is naive to assume that MS will not carry out its threat of litigation eventually, even having lately said it won't go that route for now.

MS has said it has no plans for things in the past, only to have been discovered to have had plans, such as in the area of having had no plans to put a kill switch into Windows (wink wink, nod, nod). MS had no plans to do that way back when, but it's there, in Vista now, if one does not Activate dutifully.
Posted by PolarUpgrade (103 comments )
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Google Office Offline?
I wonder if this will allow people to run Google Office offline. If it does... will there be an easy way to synchronise, back up..

mmm
Posted by kool_skatkat (982 comments )
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Isnt it similar to Dekoh and Adobe Apollo
Certainly an interesting innovation, but more powerful platform are already there in the market like the dekoh from Adobe Apollo.

1. Does the offline functionality run in the browser?
2. What about security? Is it possible for a rogue application to cache and use background threads to connect to their site just because the user visited the website and the Javascript accessing Google gears got loaded?
3. Does the user have control over deciding which applications to make offline? How much data should be available offline?

Any way google is there in our lives in term of its 'More srvices' already covering up most of the online aspect, so an other one of the 'More services'.
Posted by sauravp (4 comments )
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Office is not the target
I have been using Google Apps for quite some time now both in in my home business and in an organization with over 100 staff. It is not designed to replace MS Office. The reason MS should worry is that it does a lot of what Outlook/Exchange/Sharepoint does and for a lot less with almost 0 administration.

Not only that, it improves continuously and for no extra charge. You will not see exchange kicked to the curb any time soon at any large corporation, however, Google is slowly and methodically building a platform that works very well and very easily for small businesses and organizations. It's all about collaboration not high end output. If Google keeps listening to it's customers MS truly does have something to worry about. But not the replacement of MS Office. (at least not by Google ;)
Posted by bbucket (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It all about brand power
I think it sought of aim at the Office.

The thing that gives Google the edge at the moment is it name and the fact for now very few have anything nasty to say about them, even the film/music industries seem to be coming on the side of Google over youtube, one by one anyway.

I think their gears programs is their first step in building their off line apps range.
The only thing I think sought spoil it is that they could not release more of their services on to it in one go, which would of probably cause a slightly bigger stir.

As for open office it just simply does not have the brand power to pull ordinary users away from Microsoft, this is where Google is different, with probably one of the best recognized names out their on and off the web and the general users might just be willing to download their software,

Are they gunning for Microsoft probably is Microsoft gunning for Google you bet they are .
Posted by knowles2 (1653 comments )
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You Can Smell The Fear on Microsoft
They know it's over.

Google will eat their lunch in every aspect of web applications and search. Windows Live is a pathetic joke. They have to pay people to use the search and still no one goes near it.

Sony and Nintendo and Apple will nuke their CE business.

In the end, they'll try to sue their way out, the lawyers promising victory the whole way. Then phzzzt. Toast. Defeats in courts all across the Western world. They won't bother in Asia.

Ballmer will blame the courts who "proved that they hate innovation, hate freedom and hate the concept of private property, proving they are crypto Stalinists" before biting the face off of a TV reporter and being committed to an institution for the insane.
Posted by Sumatra-Bosch (526 comments )
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In your dreams only...........
Google gears have a very long way to go. A well featured application like open office hasn't been able to dent MS's pocket when comes to office application. The simple reason is: the kind of features they offer aren't available anywhere else. There are several advance features in Word and Excel that can't be replicated in Open office yet so forget about google gears. Thats for those people who use pirated versions of MS Office and don't want to pay.
Posted by niravabhavsar (74 comments )
Link Flag
Boneheaded press goes ga-ga over google gears
Well, all boneheads who have been bashing Microsoft in favor of Google gears must read following article.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.fool.com//investing/value/2007/06/01/press-grinds-googles-gears.aspx" target="_newWindow">http://www.fool.com//investing/value/2007/06/01/press-grinds-googles-gears.aspx</a>

Most of the stupid people didn't realize initially that it would be difficult to popularize and monetize google apps unless executives/users are able to work on applications while not being online. Now, same fools at googleplex realized that you have to have the ability to edit them offline. May be google should copy "open office" and make them available as google gears. Given google's dismal record and attitude towards copyrights; it doesn't seem too far fetched that they won't copy open office code. And, same fools bashing Microsoft would applaud google's innovation. The fact is google hasn't invented anything so far. They didn't invent pay per click, search engine, mail, im, maps etc. All they have done is copied others work and added some features to it and made them available. Isn't that how Microsoft became what it is now? So, basically there is no difference between Microsoft and Google. However, google is the biggest evil of all.
Posted by niravabhavsar (74 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Did you bother to think before posting?
"Given google's dismal record and attitude towards copyrights; it doesn't seem too far fetched that they won't copy open office code."

You do realize that OpenOffice is an open source app, and as long as they follow the terms of the license, they can copy, modify to their hearts content.

The difference between MS and Google is that Google doesn't pretend to be an innovative company like MS does.

You take every program written in the last 30 years and this quote of yours will apply:

"All they have done is copied others work and added some features to it and made them available.
"

There is nothing being done in software that does not build on prior art. If you had a clue about programming, you would know this.

I am not a huge Google fan. Their privacy abuses rival that of MS.
Posted by MSSlayer (1074 comments )
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