Google continues to push the limits of access to all sorts of resources

A major push in the online community has been to make formerly online-only resources and applications available offline.  Google Gears is among the most successful thus far of these efforts, which Mozilla recently claimed the Firefox 4 browser, due sometime in 2009 or 2010, will make obsolete

A major improvement to Google Gears is being rolled out over the next few weeks.  Google Docs, a free Word processing program similar to Microsoft Word, will now be able to operate offline.  Google Docs product manager Ken Norton made the announcement this week.  The update, he explains, will allow users to read and edit files, even when they are not internet-connected.  Within weeks of the Docs rollout, Google will roll out offline accessible versions of its popular spreadsheet and presentation programs, completing its offline-accessible Office suite.

The move places the free program in clear competition with Microsoft's pricey Office suite and is sure to generate some ill will between the pair.  However, it will take Google some time to bring its functionality in an offline environment fully up to par.  During the first stages of the rollout, the offline functionality will be limited -- users will not be able to create new documents offline.   Explains Norton, the first case scenario is if "I'm amending a document and I lose my Internet connection," with him going on to state that document creation will eventually be rolled out as well.

As Google allows multiple users to interact in real time collaborating on a document when online, a touted feature, it will have a tough task reconciling documents online.  It says it will try to make non-conflicting edits as much as possible when users log back in.  However, if there are conflicting edits, a dialog will pop up when offline editors log back online allowing changes to be compared and selected.

Google's Office suite is considered inferior in total functionality to Microsoft's Office; however, it provides some unique online features.  Furthermore, the price of free is attractive to many customers. 

Currently only one Google application, Google Reader, uses the beta candidate Google Gears.  Several third-party applications, including "Remember the Milk", use Google Gears as well. 

Norton dismisses Mozilla's recent comments that HTML 5 will make Google Gears obsolete.  Norton points out that the program is open source and easily modified to any environment.  Norton adds that Gears is "the only way to bring offline support to the entire Web audience as a whole."

In addition to the new offline Docs access, Google will roll out Google Street View in its Google Earth application.  Currently, the service is only available through Google Maps.  Google did not specify whether this is an internal release or for the general public.   The Street View service, launched May 2007, offers ground level close up shots of various urban locations, and one non-urban location Yosemite.  The results have already been hilarious, including a couple of people caught apparently in a drug deal.

Google Earth already features seamlessly integrated aerial photographs.  The acquisition of these photographs and those for Google Street View has been made easier with the 2007 acquisition of aerial imaging company ImageAmerica.  Competitor Microsoft's map service lags behind, forcing users to click to switch over to a separate aerial "bird's eye view".  Microsoft currently has a street level map service in beta testing, but has not integrated it into any of its other map services.

Microsoft and Google are both competing to be the first to effectively deploy street level 3D mapping technology, which will take wireframe models of buildings and map textures from real photos onto them, allowing you to navigate throughout a virtual street level map of the world.  Microsoft showed a fairly impressive tech demo of such a setup using its Photosynth technology, however the technology is extremely computationally intensive, and not currently practical for most home users.

While Google remains the internet king, Microsoft is constantly trying to one-up its larger internet rival.

"Nowadays you can buy a CPU cheaper than the CPU fan." -- Unnamed AMD executive

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