Standards groups are unwieldy and slow-moving. But when it comes to expanding what browsers can do, they turned out to be a faster way for Google to bring a handful of features to the Web than its Gears plug-in. So it comes as no surprise that Google is removing the software altogether from its Chrome browser.
Time To Say Goodbye
"It's finally time to say goodbye to Gears," said Gears team member Aaron Boodman in a blog post. "There will be no new Gears releases, and newer browsers such as Firefox 4 and Internet Explorer 9 will not be supported. We will also be removing Gears from Chrome in Chrome 12."
Google launched Gears with much fanfare as an open-source project in 2007. The headline feature was the ability to get Web applications to work offline--in other words, when the network connection was down--and the star examples were Google Docs and Gmail.
The Browser Landscape Compared to 2007
One thing is very different about the browser landscape now compared to 2007: Google has a browser. When Gears was introduced, a plug-in for others' browsers was about the best Google could do to advance the Web programming state of the art. Now, with Chrome, it's got its own vehicle to bring new Web features to market. Chrome accounts for about 10 percent of browser usage worldwide today, making it a much more effective vehicle for advancing the Web than Gears ever was--in particular because browser rivals also are adding many features found in Gears.
Features demonstrated with Gears that have made their way into Web standards
- The File interface, which adds better file-handling features to browsers.
- Geolocation lets the browser tell a Web application the physical location of that user.
- Notifications let Web applications produce the sorts of pop-ups so widely used by e-mail, instant messaging, and other communication software.