Google Gears: I’ve seen it all before

Back in 2002 I was director of marketing for UserLand Software. You know, Dave Winer’s company. In January of 2002 we shipped Radio UserLand. It was pretty darn bleeding edge for its time. It had a built-in Web server. A built-in database. A built-in RSS aggregator. That let me read feeds in a river-of-news format. It even worked offline (I used it back then to read feeds on plane rides and I could write blog posts while in a plane and sync them up when back online).

This week Google Gears came out and Google’s Reader has offline capabilities.

Hmmm, I swear I’ve seen this all before. Thanks to Dave Winer for providing the roadmap to Google. Bummer that we didn’t make any money off of it, but it’s nice to see that Dave’s ideas, if not his implementation, continues to prove interesting in 2007.

54 thoughts on “Google Gears: I’ve seen it all before

  1. @20 – No, I havn’t specced or tested a scenario like I describe using Gears, yet.

    And yes – the “desktop” is doing all that work still – however it works across all the major platforms and browsers, with no code changes.

    I think it’s ideally positioned at web apps, that currently only work in an online environment, and being able to take them offline, and/or reduce roundtrip delays.

    And to the people who insist that “offline” won’t exist in the next 1, 2 or even 10 years – sorry, but you’re wrong, and taking a very narrow view of the world.

  2. @20 – No, I havn’t specced or tested a scenario like I describe using Gears, yet.

    And yes – the “desktop” is doing all that work still – however it works across all the major platforms and browsers, with no code changes.

    I think it’s ideally positioned at web apps, that currently only work in an online environment, and being able to take them offline, and/or reduce roundtrip delays.

    And to the people who insist that “offline” won’t exist in the next 1, 2 or even 10 years – sorry, but you’re wrong, and taking a very narrow view of the world.

  3. Hum. I think I am lost know. I am using since ever RSSBandit on Windows and PRSSreader on the PocketPC. I tried Google reader, but still I cannot. I use it sometimes but I rather like to use offline readers.

  4. Hum. I think I am lost know. I am using since ever RSSBandit on Windows and PRSSreader on the PocketPC. I tried Google reader, but still I cannot. I use it sometimes but I rather like to use offline readers.

  5. Serious Pain? It’s called cutting sarcasm, and far from painful, it’s drug-like pleasureable, of course pointless, but for the fleeting moments.

  6. Serious Pain? It’s called cutting sarcasm, and far from painful, it’s drug-like pleasureable, of course pointless, but for the fleeting moments.

  7. @17 Have spec’d and tested the desktop requirements for the scenario you describe. It all sounds great in theory. What is the real end user experience?

    Isn’t the desktop still doing the caching and synchronization?

  8. @17 Have spec’d and tested the desktop requirements for the scenario you describe. It all sounds great in theory. What is the real end user experience?

    Isn’t the desktop still doing the caching and synchronization?

  9. Radio Userland was a fine offline feed-reader, but it was a very different beast than Google Gears.

    Here’s why:

    Radio Userland was a native Windows (or Mac) app which you downloaded and installed. It ran an internal web server, which served up a web-based interface. This is a powerful approach, but (a) it requires the user to download and run an installer, and (b) it doesn’t support Linux, cell phones, etc.

    Gear tackles the same problem, but from the opposite direction. It takes an ordinary, browser-based web app, and allows it to support an offline mode. No installers, no native code, and you can run on any platform that has a Gears-enabled browser.

    This may seem like a small difference, but it’s not–suddenly, you can access a web app from any computer, bookmark it, run it when you’re offline, and so on. Although Radio Userland was sweet, it was never so well-integrated into the web.

    And since Google’s releasing Gears under a BSD license, and providing plugins for many popular browsers (with more to come), there’s no reason to avoid this.

    The biggest drawbacks: (a) To take advantage of Gears, you need to write your entire app in Javascript, and (b) you’re going to need some serious sync technology, which will take a while to get right.

    Gears looks like a nice piece of work–SQLite is an excellent little database, the background worker threads will improve UI performance, and the ability to cache your web page resources offline will allow the user to simply bookmark your site.

  10. Radio Userland was a fine offline feed-reader, but it was a very different beast than Google Gears.

    Here’s why:

    Radio Userland was a native Windows (or Mac) app which you downloaded and installed. It ran an internal web server, which served up a web-based interface. This is a powerful approach, but (a) it requires the user to download and run an installer, and (b) it doesn’t support Linux, cell phones, etc.

    Gear tackles the same problem, but from the opposite direction. It takes an ordinary, browser-based web app, and allows it to support an offline mode. No installers, no native code, and you can run on any platform that has a Gears-enabled browser.

    This may seem like a small difference, but it’s not–suddenly, you can access a web app from any computer, bookmark it, run it when you’re offline, and so on. Although Radio Userland was sweet, it was never so well-integrated into the web.

    And since Google’s releasing Gears under a BSD license, and providing plugins for many popular browsers (with more to come), there’s no reason to avoid this.

    The biggest drawbacks: (a) To take advantage of Gears, you need to write your entire app in Javascript, and (b) you’re going to need some serious sync technology, which will take a while to get right.

    Gears looks like a nice piece of work–SQLite is an excellent little database, the background worker threads will improve UI performance, and the ability to cache your web page resources offline will allow the user to simply bookmark your site.

  11. we’re headed for a world of constant connections – the concept of “offline” won’t be around in 12-18 months.
    The Taiwan earthquake took me virtually offline from rest of world’s internet for about 6 weeks in Jan, Feb.
    “Offline” will always be around.

  12. we’re headed for a world of constant connections – the concept of “offline” won’t be around in 12-18 months.
    The Taiwan earthquake took me virtually offline from rest of world’s internet for about 6 weeks in Jan, Feb.
    “Offline” will always be around.

  13. I think you’re all missing the point of Google Gears.

    Yeah, offline RSS is nothing new, even in a river-of-news format.

    The kicker for Google Gears is that *any* site can now do client-side data storage, querying, and background Javascript execution with surprisingly little effort.

    This means that I can offload (say) a large database-heavy full-text query from my overly strained DB, to a client’s PC.

    I could store information that a user looks at repeatedly, on their PC, and look it up there – saving roundtrip and remote execution time.

    Say you’ve got a CRM web-application for your company – they can now extend it to automatically synchronise to your laptop.
    Now you if the backchannel to the network is slow, the app can query locally for that product information and just exchange updates (i.e new customer order, stock information, etc).

    Before Gears you would have needed to make a desktop application to handle caching and synchronisation. Now you don’t.

  14. I think you’re all missing the point of Google Gears.

    Yeah, offline RSS is nothing new, even in a river-of-news format.

    The kicker for Google Gears is that *any* site can now do client-side data storage, querying, and background Javascript execution with surprisingly little effort.

    This means that I can offload (say) a large database-heavy full-text query from my overly strained DB, to a client’s PC.

    I could store information that a user looks at repeatedly, on their PC, and look it up there – saving roundtrip and remote execution time.

    Say you’ve got a CRM web-application for your company – they can now extend it to automatically synchronise to your laptop.
    Now you if the backchannel to the network is slow, the app can query locally for that product information and just exchange updates (i.e new customer order, stock information, etc).

    Before Gears you would have needed to make a desktop application to handle caching and synchronisation. Now you don’t.

  15. Would Dave settle for inventing 50% of Western Civilization? Can some one print him up a fancy looking certificate from FedExKinko’s that says ‘World’s Greatest Inventor’. Would that shut him up?

    Ideas are worthless, and a penny a dozen — implementations, that’s where it’s all at.

  16. Would Dave settle for inventing 50% of Western Civilization? Can some one print him up a fancy looking certificate from FedExKinko’s that says ‘World’s Greatest Inventor’. Would that shut him up?

    Ideas are worthless, and a penny a dozen — implementations, that’s where it’s all at.

  17. we’re headed for a world of constant connections – the concept of “offline” won’t be around in 12-18 months.

    I think there’s a large part of the US, and the world that would rather surprise you with just how little they care about the intarweb

  18. we’re headed for a world of constant connections – the concept of “offline” won’t be around in 12-18 months.

    I think there’s a large part of the US, and the world that would rather surprise you with just how little they care about the intarweb

  19. offline rss reader thru google certainly helps when i have to run off to uni in the mornings and like to read my rss when i get to class without having to hook up the laptop to the network…i know other readers do this, but after trying many out i like the feel of google reader and this functionaily just adds to its greatness.

  20. offline rss reader thru google certainly helps when i have to run off to uni in the mornings and like to read my rss when i get to class without having to hook up the laptop to the network…i know other readers do this, but after trying many out i like the feel of google reader and this functionaily just adds to its greatness.

  21. I used to use NavCIS from Compuserve to connect and download forum messages and then read and compose offline. This was back when Compuserve charged by the hour. Everything old is new again.

  22. I used to use NavCIS from Compuserve to connect and download forum messages and then read and compose offline. This was back when Compuserve charged by the hour. Everything old is new again.

  23. Almost as soon as there were web servers, there were offline applications that used them on the desktop; my brother decided to use one in an offline e-learning product around 1997 (and if I remember correctly, it was packaged as a browser (ActiveX, IE-only) plugin).

    In 10 years, there will still be plenty of places where it isn’t possible (or at least, not cheaply) to be online 24×7. In any case, smart caching improves performance; now a web app can control and write to a cache.

    (shameless plug) More about why Gears is not “innovative” but is still an important innovation on my blog.

  24. Almost as soon as there were web servers, there were offline applications that used them on the desktop; my brother decided to use one in an offline e-learning product around 1997 (and if I remember correctly, it was packaged as a browser (ActiveX, IE-only) plugin).

    In 10 years, there will still be plenty of places where it isn’t possible (or at least, not cheaply) to be online 24×7. In any case, smart caching improves performance; now a web app can control and write to a cache.

    (shameless plug) More about why Gears is not “innovative” but is still an important innovation on my blog.

  25. Most of the desktop aggregators I’ve seen allow for disconnected ops. Doesn’t Radio Userland essentially fall into that category? (Along with SharpReader, RSSOwl, etc. etc.)

    The nice thing that Gears provides is disconnected ops within a Browser, which I haven’t seen done (well) anywhere else yet.

    The beauty of the Reader+Gears combination: You never had to download and install Reader, but now you can use it whenever you like, networked or not.

  26. we’re headed for a world of constant connections – the concept of “offline” won’t be around in 12-18 months.

    wireless broadband is the next evolution in the net.

    ggw

  27. Most of the desktop aggregators I’ve seen allow for disconnected ops. Doesn’t Radio Userland essentially fall into that category? (Along with SharpReader, RSSOwl, etc. etc.)

    The nice thing that Gears provides is disconnected ops within a Browser, which I haven’t seen done (well) anywhere else yet.

    The beauty of the Reader+Gears combination: You never had to download and install Reader, but now you can use it whenever you like, networked or not.

  28. we’re headed for a world of constant connections – the concept of “offline” won’t be around in 12-18 months.

    wireless broadband is the next evolution in the net.

    ggw

  29. Caching data for offline use predates UserLand as well. It was one of the driving reasons for using desktop computers/”smart” terminals in mainframe/mini environments. Years ago networks weren’t that reliable, esp. WAN links, so you wanted to have the data you needed accessible even if the mainframe/mini wasn’t.

    As well, things like caching IMAP messages predate 2002 by quite a few years.

    It was a well-known, and well-solved problem by the time 2002 rolled around. Hard to believe, I know, but neither Winer nor Google invented everything.

  30. Caching data for offline use predates UserLand as well. It was one of the driving reasons for using desktop computers/”smart” terminals in mainframe/mini environments. Years ago networks weren’t that reliable, esp. WAN links, so you wanted to have the data you needed accessible even if the mainframe/mini wasn’t.

    As well, things like caching IMAP messages predate 2002 by quite a few years.

    It was a well-known, and well-solved problem by the time 2002 rolled around. Hard to believe, I know, but neither Winer nor Google invented everything.

  31. “there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come ”

    There is – Patent trolls

  32. “there is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come ”

    There is – Patent trolls

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