Emerging technologies

Offline Web Applications with Google Gears

By Mainak Biswas July 07, 2007 - 800 views

Web Applications is all about having a constant internet connection. The traditional methods of GET and POST requires the page to refresh everytime you need to interact with the database and it posed serious limitations on how web based applications were used and delivered. Then came AJAX, it brought with it the capacity to interact with the database without having to reload/refresh the page. It gave desktop type look and feel to web applications and it fuelled the whole Web 2.0 revolution. But still , you need a live connection with the database and the webserver in order for it to work.

How about a situation when you update the website offline and then synchronize it online ? Would’nt your web application work just like desktop application? Yummy..!

Google is attempting to answer the prayers by releasing Google Gears. Its basically a browser extension available for IE 6+ and Firefox 1.5+ that promises to make web applications work offline. It consists of three crucial components:

1. A local server to cache on-line server resources like Images, HTML, CSS, JavaScript etc
2. A local database (SQLite) to store and access data from within a browser
3. A threading mechanism, to make applications perform better by doing expensive operations in the background

The official gears website states that they are working on creating the plugin available for browsers like Safari on Mac OS X but any tentative release date is not yet publicly available. Gears is not a plug and play thing, its an API available via a browser plug-in, thus, it means that in order to benefit from offline caching , the website needs to invoke the API explicitly.

Having a database in a plug-in does not means that its of little use, this is infact a full-featured database which means you can have a lot of relational tables, perform complex queries using joins or use full-text search features. A security feature also ensures that the database can only be by domain for which it was created, thus chances of hacking is not there.

Here is the big question  – Will Gears get Hot ? Personally I dont think this will get much attention from business community becuase of following reasons:

  1. Its a plug-in which needs to be installed explicitly, not all users will want to do that.
  2. It adds another layer of abstraction to the system which is very complex to handle.
  3. You need to download the data before you can use it offline, synchronization operations are very complex becuase they are dependent on persistent internet connection. Add multi-user update to it and you got a whole new dimension of problem to think of.  Dont take this point lightly, if you have a multi-user, multi-point update scenario then handing offline updates will be a nightmare from hell.
  4. The whole notion of off-line is not going to live after another 3 years of so. 50% of US is already on broadband.

So why did google build it?

That a tricky question, But I think offline update of adverts, keywords etc by individual advertisers may have something to do with it.  The advertisers wont mind a plugin and google wont mind freeing up some server resources from all the those reports which will be generated offline. Talk about a win-win situation 😉

Anyways, for now gears is comfortably sitting inside my browser. May be someday, while wandering across the internet, I will bump into a real gears application. If it does’nt happen anytime soon then , I will have to un-install it.

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