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
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
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.
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
to one-up its larger internet rival.