Google Tightens Its Gears

Google's first major developer conference focuses on improvements to 'Gears,' its cloud-based browser extension.

In yet the latest milestone to court programmers, Google Inc. late last month held its first major developer conference, where the company said it intends to close the gap between Web apps and native software imbuing the browser with new capabilities.

The event was held in San Francisco about a year after holding its famed Google Developer Day, where the search giant unveiled Google Gears, a browser extension that allows developers to build Web applications that run even when disconnected from the network. Now the search giant has dropped "Google" from "Gears," and said that year two would see even more changes.

Gears lead engineer Chris Prince told attendees about new capabilities they could expect to see in Gears in the coming year, including the ability to provide event notifications on the desktop, support for location information, improved interactions with desktop file systems and enhanced file-upload features.

It's still early days for Gears, but Google's plans for the technology were buttressed at the conference by several announcements. For example, Allen Hurff, SVP of engineering at MySpace, told attendees that his company is using Gears to make the popular social-networking site easier to use. Effective immediately, when MySpace users open their mailboxes, they will be invited to install it, and then use it to search their in-boxes for specific terms, or to sort messages. MySpace disclosed that the company is using the original Gears Database API with Full Text Search to improve this functionality.

New in Gears

What developers can expect in the next release:
  • Event-based notifications
  • Location information
  • Added interaction with desktop apps
  • Improved uploading capabilities
-- J.K.W.

Opera Software ASA announced that it would soon be supporting Gears on both its desktop and mobile browsers. And Google disclosed plans to provide Gears support for Firefox 3 and Safari; it currently supports only Internet Explorer and earlier Firefox versions.

During his opening keynote, Google VP of engineering Vic Gundotra allowed that his company was economically motivated to advance the cloud cause and turn the Web into a full-fledged platform, but insisted the company's motives transcend the revenue opportunity.

"Google was born in the era of the Web," he said. "It's the only platform we've known. It was a platform that was formed by consensus, by all of us, collectively agreeing to a few standards. And we feel a debt of gratitude toward that community."

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance author and journalist based in Silicon Valley. His latest book is The Everything Guide to Social Media. Follow John on Twitter, read his blog on, check out his author page on Amazon, or e-mail him at

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