One of the most frequent criticisms of the modern crop of web- and AJAX-based applications is the need for an Internet connection for them to work. After all, what good are Google Docs or webmail to you if you are on an airplane or facing a temporary connection interruption. Google has brought us one step closer to fixing that this week with its new Google Gears browser extension.
As others have pointed out, Google is not the first to develop something like this. But putting their weight behind it should help increase the development and adoption of off-line web applications.
I can imagine several potential uses for Gears within the library. Someone could conceivably save a set of records within an OPAC web interface, and still have access to those records while taking their laptop through the stacks of the library (presuming the library doesn’t have adequate Wi-Fi, of course). Or a student could save several items from a digital collection and still have access to those pages when presenting them to a class later. These things can already be done, of course, but Gears should make them easier and more user-friendly.
Like many Google products, Gears is still in Beta (much like Google Reader, which has implemented Gears), which means there are still some bugs to work out. There is some suspicion that it was rushed out the door to meet the deadline of Google Developer Day. But hopefully Gears will soon be a stable, robust, functional API for delivering off-line web applications.