The Gears that could 'augur the death of Microsoft'

The Gears that could 'augur the death of Microsoft'

Summary: In his recent commentary at, Harry McCracken notes that Google's Gears could be the technology that 'augurs the death of Microsoft.


In his recent commentary at, Harry McCracken notes that Google's Gears could be the technology that 'augurs the death of Microsoft.' Writes McCracken:

A week ago, I ceremoniously yanked out my MacBook's Ethernet cable and toggled off the Wi-Fi. Once I was positive the machine was cut off from the Internet, I added a task to my online to-do list. It worked. I sat back and smiled, agog—I had just seen the future of software.

I wrangle my to-dos with a Web service called Remember the Milk. Compared with a bloated behemoth like Outlook, it's a streamlined, fun-to-use wonder. Rather than sitting on one PC's hard disk, RTM lives on the Web, where it's available on every computer I use. Up until that day, though, it had the same overwhelming problem as every other Net-based service on the planet: It was ... well, Net-based. No Internet connection, no to-do list.

But now Remember the Milk has added support for Google Gears.....

McCracken goes on to question the sense in spending $500 for a future version of Microsoft Office if Google Apps was (Google Apps is a branded service) roughly comparable, not haunted by the so-called offline problem, and free. The truth is that to get the most out of Google Apps, many business will probably opt for the $50 per seat per year price because, among other things, it enables dipping into Google's network of third party solution providers (many of which, like the thousands of apps that helped to make Windows what it is today, will really make the Google Apps platform useful to the masses). $50 is the cost of a single support incident with Microsoft Office. $50 per year for a user of Google Apps includes free telephone support. (If Google Apps takes off, the company may have to do a "WordPerfect" though....a company that eventually had to charge real money for its once free, and legendary phone support.)

McCracken eventually reaches the same conclusion that I have....that "Office will surely leave its desktop roots behind for the Web at some point in the not-too-distant future." He also points out how Web apps, once they're offline, render the operating system moot. This cuts very much to the chase of why Doug Gold and I refer to the event we produce (Mashup Camp, the next one is this July in Silicon Valley) as the "unconference for the uncomputer."

More than anything else, operating systems are collections of APIs that make it so developers can do what once required thousands of lines of code with one line. Things like accessing the network or putting a window on screen (at a certain location with certain color scroll bars and a certain title). But to install an API into the general distribution of traditional operating system like Windows, the Mac, or even Linux requires the say-so of a handful of people. Not so with the Internet which, like operating systems, is also quickly turning into a collection of APIs (a good hunk of which are for Google's applications). In fact, barely a day goes by where another API doesn't show up on the Net -- one that's available to all developers. This is drawing developers in droves to the mashup ecosystem of software where they can draw upon multiple APIs from multiple sources to produce unique and innovative applications.

Toss in the cross-platform nature of those apps, since they run in a browser (which in turn means they run on any OS without modification) and, as McCracken points out, all the inequities between something like the Windows and Mac versions of Office go away. The traditional computer as we know it is simply becoming a point of access to our data and information. The naysayers who once hung their hat on the offline problem (as though it were insurmountable) now talk about how no one will store their data with a service because it's too risky. Hackers could get at it or worse, some privacy invading court or Congress could require the service to turn over the data. (Who do you want defending your data -- your lawyers or theirs?) Meanwhile, companies are flocking to services like with the one dataset that's their lifeblood: their customer data.

Sun was right (although it may not have been Sun that brought the vision across the finish line). The network is the computer. The uncomputer.

Topics: Apps, Google, Operating Systems

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  • Well written

    I think your assessment is on-point and accurate.

    I am anticipating making significant changes for myself in the next few months to try to live without MS Office 2007/2003 and only use web-based apps. If it works I will be recommending this to my clients.
  • Nice anecdote

    Now, I don't think you can convince anybody with this kind of anecdotes. It reminds me of all the people swearing in these forums and all over the web that Linux does not need any improvement and that people do not use just because they are ignorant idiots.

    "Hey! See! An unknown web application could save a to-do item while off line. Let's move everything from MS to Google!"
    • Just another attack on rich client computing

      [i] "Hey! See! An unknown web application could save a to-do item while off line. Let's move everything from MS to Google!"[/i]

      To create a web equivalent to MS Office would be: 1) extremely tedious; 2) would run so slowly as to be impractical to use; 3) and to use offline would necessitate bringing down the application from the server to the client computer, so that you would end up with a rich client application like MS Office on your PC, that is built around the browser.

      This article is yet another attack on rich client computing by thin client computing advocates. And while these guys denounce rich client computing, they turn to it (out of necessity) to solve their offline problem.
      P. Douglas
      • This is really a whole lot different. With this model, the application and

        data are only cached locally for quick access, and off-line access. There is no installation, updating, patching, or backing up. If your computer goes south, buy a new one, plug it in, go to the website, and there you have it.

        With the old method, you would have to buy the computer, spend 5 hours on the phone begging them to re-activate your applications for a new computer, install the applications, install the latest updates and patches for the applications, install your backup software (if you had backups, otherwise . . . ), find your backup media, install the backups,

        Lets not forget that all of your applications and data are only available when you are at your home computer, with the Gears model, it is available everywhere.

        Also, if you are buying Vista class hardware, you won't even break a sweat running web applications compared to Vista itself.

        Which one will Joe consumer like better??
        • What??

          So you are saying that the "old" model proposed by Linux+OpenOffice sucks big time. I cannot believe this coming from you! ]-)
          • Well, given that Linux is modular, and anything that is not needed can be

            stripped out, it is the perfect OS for running a browser with features for rich interactive web applications.

            OpenOffice is a very useful transition technology, since we still print a lot of things on 8.5x11 paper. But, fat office suites will be with us for a while, since the older generation is used to them. The younger generation will be more likely to use lighter weight web based office suites, and they will not print very much, but just access and share content online.
          • At that point we will not need Linux+OpenOffice anymore

            computers based on .NET or Java are enough for this "new model"

            I guess you will be glad at that point. Funny to know you want to get rid of Linux.
          • In one form or another you will...

            need, at least Linux and probably for more heavy duty tasks that I see internet rich thin clients being able to do.

            Google Gears doesn't require .NET or Mono, btw to get up and running. For example I've already seen libraries for Gears for Python and Ruby.

            No one, least of all any of us, can say with any accuracy what the future will look like. For now it seems people are still thinking office suites. If anything, I see office suites becoming marginalized for upscale, heavy duty use while on/off line apps will be more for day to day tasks that most people now use office apps for.

            Also, the OS on the desktop/laptop won't be a limitation or advantage.


  • Maybe 10 years from now

    but not before then.
    • Time waits for nobody. Yes, MS would like it to be another 10 years

      But, Gears is here now, and the evolution, now that it is in the wild, will be fast and furious.
    • You sound like a mainframe person well into the PC revolution.

      "Maybe 10 years from now personal computers will have the power of a mainframe..."
    • Are those real years or internet years? Makes a big difference - NT

  • Debate

    David, maybe it's time that you and Ryan Stewart had a point/counterpoint debate on this?

    He apparently sees current Web apps moving onto "richer" desktop applications rather than the opposite direction.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • There's a place for both.

      If the web has shown us anything, it's that many divergent styles and techniques can survive together and flourish. I see web-enabled desktop apps and gears-enabled stuff as different sides of the same coin, and not necessarily gunning for each other.

      I'm with No-Ax on this one, I don't think you'll see people giving up their lovely offline software for strictly web apps (on or offline) for quite some time.

      And MS has been working with SaaS for a long while too, I doubt they'll let Google gears go unanswered.

      • Absolutely!!

        There are still too many people who don't even have an Internet connection, or who are unwilling to get, or even need an internet connection for this to succeed for a while . . .
  • What a JOKE!

    This may be fine and dandy for those home users that don't need reliability, but for me and my colleagues, someone is obviously smoking something to think any web app can replace Outlook.

    Hell half the time links on ZDNet don't work or I get "page can't be displayed" or the link takes me to the wrong article. Other times I click on the TalkBack, type for a few minutes, click Submit My Reply and poof, its all gone. The web it a fun toy but more often then not, unreliable and certainly not a place to put your trust when it comes to doing anything of significant importance.
    • That's interesting

      Just not terribly in line with reality. 'Nuff said.

      • Reality

        So, how many times has google lost customer data. Gmail glitches. Calendar glitches. Spreadsheet glitches.

        How often have you read of servers getting hacked and credit card information being stolen.

        The idea of the web as a secure repository for important data is laughable.

        They call it the cloud. You ever driven in or flown through a cloud? Very, very easy to get lost.
        • Still, you read all the time about credit cards hacked at companies that

          stored all their data behind the firewall. Trying to do it all yourself without the money for a team of gurus working 25x7 is a recipe for disaster too. The people that can not afford a team of gurus working 24x7 should use online services, for instance

          And, individual consumers with the high percentage of Windows machines being zombies, they would be about 100x safer using Linux and FireFox with online apps.

          And, I use GMail and Google Apps. My only problem is the flaky Internet connections. Gears will fix a lot of that.
          • Tsk, tsk DonnieBoy

            "..individual consumers with the high percentage of Windows machines being zombies,..."

            Really? How high a percentage? Let's do the numbers. 1 million zombies out of a legal installed base of appx 400 million? How high is that percentage again? Let's see, 1 divided by 400...

            Put down the crack pipe, DB
            Confused by religion