Google Gears now supports Firefox 3

Firefox 3 isn't quite done, but Google has released a version of Gears for it. The software is a foundation for more elaborate Web applications.

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3 min read

Gears, Google's project to make Web browsers a better foundation for elaborate online applications, now supports Firefox 3, the company plans to announce soon.

"Gears for Firefox 3, as of today, is available for all users," said Aaron Boodman, a Google programmer working on the Gears project, in an interview Tuesday. "We hope to announce it either today or tomorrow."

Indeed, the Google Gears code site lists Firefox 3 support in version 0.3 description. Firefox 3 itself is due this month; the open-source browser currently is in its second release candidate.

Google is working on Gears--formerly called Google Gears--as a way to advance Web programming. It's a key enabler to the cloud computing model exemplified with Web applications such as Google Docs and Gmail.

The company hopes features developed for Gears will eventually settle into HTML, the standard used to describe Web pages. There has been some success: the offline page access and internal database technology released in the first Gears incarnation, has made its way to the HTML 5 specification under development.

At the Google I/O conference conference in May, the company described several Gears features under development--though not promised--for Gears. The Gears history page is more specific about two of those features, listing the "blob" module and the geolocation module as "in the oven" for Gears 0.4.

The blob module lets a Web browser handle a large chunk of data in pieces, for example, uploading a large video bit by bit to better protect against unreliable network connections. The geolocation module gives browsers abilities to use data about where exactly a person using the Web is located, but Google hasn't worked out exactly how to handle the privacy implications of that work.

Also demonstrated in version 3 is the ability to make a Web site into a shortcut users can drop onto their computer desktops. That feature is built into Gears 0.3.

The primary initial feature of Gears was offline access to Web applications, which has obvious utility for somebody editing a spreadsheet on an airplane. Future Gears features, such as the geolocation technology, likely will have broader adoption on Web applications, he predicted.

"We started with offline, a very hard feature because it involves synchronizing data with multiple computers," Boodman said. "I don't think every Web app needs offline. But as we add additional capabilities beyond just offline, it will be appealing to more Web sites."

Gears, an open-source project, already supports Firefox 2 and Internet Explorer. Google is working hard on a version for Apple's Safari browser, and Opera is extending support to its own desktop and mobile browsers.

"We do plan to make it work across all major browsers across all major platforms," said Sundar Pichai, the Google vice president in charge of Gears, iGoogle, Google Desktop, Gadgets, and various other products.

Gears has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times, Google said, and the company expects it to spread. Also at Google I/O, MySpace announced it's using Gears to augment its online inbox.

Google isn't alone in the area: Yahoo is working on a conceptually similar project called BrowserPlus to improve Web browsers.