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Google's stopgap

May 31, 2007

One of my favorite stories about technological innovation involves the founding of Reuters. Back in the 1830s and 1840s, as telegraph lines were being strung across the world, the usefulness of the revolutionary new communication system was hampered by gaps in coverage. In Europe, for instance, the Belgian telegraph line ended in Brussels, while the German line didn't start until Aachen. Messages had to be transcribed and carried over land across the 77 miles separating the two cities. But a couple of entrepreneurs saw a business opportunity in this problem. In 1849, they bought a flock of carrier pigeons and used them to fly messages between Brussels and Aachen, reducing transit times dramatically. Within a few years, their little company had itself taken wing, becoming one of the world's leading telegraph agencies and, in time, a media giant.

Gears, Google's newly introduced set of software tools that allows web-based programs to continue to run even when a user loses his Internet connection, is a modern-day analogue to Reuters' carrier pigeons. It fills a gap in a new and as yet incomplete technological system, helping ease the way to the future. We know that software is moving online - that the applications we use will increasingly run in distant data centers rather than on our own hard drives - but we're still a long way from having the persistent, ubiquitous broadband network connections that will allow those applications to run with the reliability of traditional, locally installed apps. There are gaps in connectivity - just as there were, for many years, gaps in the telegraph system (not to mention the rail system, the telephone system, the electric grid, and the highway system). Because people live in the present, not the future, finding ways to fill these gaps is crucial to technological progress - and can also present a big business opportunity. (As I described in an earlier article, mending disruptions can be even more lucrative than creating them.)

In a decade or two, we probably won't need a stopgap like Gears. For now, we do - and Google's wise to provide it.


It's a software framework you have to download and install. You might as well install Java, or .Net, or a Firefox plugin. I'm trying to think of a practical reason to use Gears, but I can't.

Posted by: Thomas [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 31, 2007 04:47 PM

Given that Microsoft has announced the same capability with Silverlight (but restricted to .NET), Google was wise to launch this ability now, especially if Google shies away from Silverlight. The battle of the platforms is looming just over the horizon, and the stakes are really high.

Given that the abundance of developers and software vendors have been one of the main drives behind Microsoft's success, and given that programming for the web and for scalability is hard, mending the disruption probably involves making it easy for developers to take advantage to the new web platform. Microsoft is having trouble matching Google's search capability, but will Google be able to match the power of Microsoft's desktop development platform? And will Microsoft be succesful at bringing the relative simple desktop programming methods to the parallel web?

Posted by: Filip Verhaeghe [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 31, 2007 06:14 PM

Hi, Guys!

I've just tried Hello World Database application (http://code.google.com/apis/gears/samples/hello_world_database.html)
and I've founded one issue, about security concerns.

This is a great step to develop web applications but i think that it'll need some work, yet, to give some confidence to use this new technology.

For more information, about this issue, please visit my post at google gears in this link

Very Important: Security Issue on H ello_world_database Application
try it!

See Ya!

Orlando Agostinho


Posted by: Orlando Agostinho [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 1, 2007 07:02 AM

"We know that software is moving online - that the applications we use will increasingly run in distant data centers rather than on our own hard drives ..."

Only after reading this taken-as-fact statement do I feel compelled to vocally disagree. Applications as well as data might be hosted remotely, but I believe that future apps will still execute locally and even be 'cached' locally.

Posted by: Sid Steward [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 1, 2007 09:50 AM

Another stopgap business that works: Netflix.

Posted by: Kevin Kelly [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 1, 2007 11:49 AM

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