I'm not often left feeling completely astonished these days. I like to think I'm pretty on top of where things are going. But I just got completely blindsided by Google Gears. There's already plenty of first-glance analysis to help you grasp the magnitude of what they've done. I recommend you start by listening to David Berlind's podcast interview with Linus Upson, a director of engineering at Google about the back story on Gears and what Google is aiming to accomplish with this broadside.
Then you can pop over to Techmeme and read until you can't take any more guessing, prognosticating, and crystal ball gazing. There's a huge thread of posts and counter-posts already piling up and at this hour (10:25 p.m. Mountain time) the pace with which this is pushing everything else off the page is pretty impressive.
Rather than trying to tell you "what it all means", I thought a quick display of Gears in action would be infinitely more interesting. Here's what I did in about five minutes to turn Google Reader, the tool I'm using to manage my RSS habit these days, into an offline reader. Follow along because I think you'll be every bit as blown away as I am at how easy this is.
Step 1 - Install Google Gears (as a Firefox add-in in my case). Windows, Mac and Linux Firefox are supported as is Internet Explorer. Safari support is promised soon according to the podcast interview mentioned above.
Step 2 - Click the offline button in Google Reader (next to the account name in the upper right corner of the window). Google Reader asks if you want to download content before going offline. Downloading 2000 items took only a couple of minutes over a WiFi connection.
Step 3 – Disconnect from the intertubes and read your RSS feeds as if you were still connected. When you reconnect to the network, Google Reader synchronizes your local changes (items read, shared and/or starred) with the server and updates new content from your subscription list. Seamless.
Step 4 – There is no Step 4.
This is big folks. In my admittedly limited testing the offline reading experience is completely consistent with what I've come to expect when working with Reader online (with the exception of images which are not downloaded for offline viewing). Google is open-sourcing Gears and, as David points out in the post accompanying his podcast interview, they've taken a huge step towards defining a de facto standard for taking web apps offline. The reason I think this isn't just crazy Web 2.0 hype is that Adobe has announced they are aligning their Apollo efforts with the approach Google's taken with Gears as there are significant similarities in how the two companies have have approached their online/offline application solutions.
There are probably a few freaked out people in the web and hybrid application worlds right about now. Because the game has changed.