Google's Gears turns one

The project formerly called 'Google Gears' is increasingly being used to make online apps function when connectivity is unavailable

Google has given an update on the progress of its Gears project, which had its first birthday on Wednesday.

Previously called Google Gears, but now just 'Gears', the project is aimed at making online applications usable while offline. Google said on Wednesday that "Gears isn't just a Google thing", but rather "a way for everyone to get involved with upgrading the web platform".

Gears works primarily by installing an open-source SQLite database engine on the client machine, allowing Gears-enabled pages to use cached data when the online service is unavailable. SQLite is a software library that implements a serverless SQL database engine used by many desktop PC applications and even mobile phones. Gears uses SQLite to overcome the key limitation of online applications: that they currently depend on a consistent connection to the internet.

"Our first year focused on offline-enabling applications, but that was only the beginning," wrote Google software engineer Chris Prince on the company's blog. "Our broader goal has always been to close the gap between web apps and native apps by giving the browser new capabilities. There is no shortage of web application pain points to be addressed! In its second year, Gears will begin to tackle some of these problems."

Prince detailed some of the uptake of Gears. The social-networking site MySpace has enhanced the functionality of its mail facility using Gears, and the blogging platform WordPress also uses it to let users manage their blogs offline. The Google Docs team also added offline functionality in April.

The Gears team is currently working on adding Firefox 3 and Safari support, and Opera is "working to support Gears on both desktop and mobile", Prince wrote. Windows Mobile now also supports Gears, albeit with some limitations.