The announcement of Google's latest development, Google Gears, was met with a lot of excitement over the last few days -- understandably so. The ability of web applications to work even when off-line is a huge step forward for web software, and even if there aren't a lot of apps that can take advantage of this yet, the beta release of Gears signals big changes in coming months.
But how will Google Gears change your online life? In more ways than you might think.
Let me first issue a disclaimer: there's a lot of work that needs to be done on Google Gears, and it will be awhile before enough web apps adopt this feature. It's not going to change the world, but it's a start in a new direction.
How will Gears change things? Here are just a few ways:
- Office domination. For the first time, Microsoft's domination over office suite software will be challenged. Google Apps (currently consisting of word processing, spreadsheets, email and calendar) has been out for awhile but hasn't gone anywhere in terms of widespread adoption. The biggest reason: you can't work when you're off-line. With Gears, this changes. Now, Google Docs and Spreadsheets still won't measure up to Word and Excel, but the appeal of being able to access and work on documents from anywhere is a big plus, and Gmail and Gcal are considered by many to be better at what they do than the Microsoft equivalents. It'll be awhile before there's real competition in this field, but Google took a major step toward being a competitor with the release of Gears.
- Everything online. For the last few decades, computer users have been reliant on an operating system and hard drive storage on their computer. But with online apps getting better and better, and now with the release of Gears, a user is no longer tied to any operating system or hard drive. You can work on your documents anywhere you have an Internet connection -- and soon, the Internet connection won't be necessary. All you'll need is a browser. Even files can be stored online instead of on your hard drive. Of course, you'll still need an operating system and hard drive, but which one you're using won't matter a bit.
- Offline work. This is the obvious one. Those who use online email apps such as Gmail or Yahoo Mail, or any online apps, can currently pretty much only do work while connected to the Internet. But soon you'll be able to do work at any time -- while in the bathroom (assuming you have a laptop), on an airplane, in the remotest areas of the world. This will liberate you from Internet access. Do a load of work somewhere off-line, then go back home or to the office and connect and upload your work.
- Down time won't matter. Another obvious one, but this will make a big difference. Many areas have bad Internet connections, with major down time or up-and-down time. That kind of unreliable connection is a major deterrent for people to use online apps, but now it won't matter. Internet's down -- just work off-line until it's back up. Connect, update, and disconnect. This brings serious online computing to a much wider group of people, worldwide.
- Disconnected offices. A side effect of the growth of online apps will be an acceleration toward an office-less office. Laptops will become king, as you can do work from anywhere, Internet connection or not, an workers will become liberated from the office. Why do I need to be at my desk, as long as I get my work done? In fact, the lack of an office greatly reduces the cost of running a small business, and those businesses who learn that decentralized, disconnected offices are most efficient will have a competitive edge.
- Distraction-free work. This is my personal favorite. Currently, if you use online software such as Google Docs or Gmail to do your work, you have to be connected to the Internet -- which just happens to be the greatest time-waster ever invented. So as you do your work, you've got the constant pull of other Internet sites (beyond the ones needed for productivity), the Siren's call beckoning you at every turn. Eventually, you cave in, and there goes your productivity. With off-line work, you can disconnect from the Internet, only have the apps you need be available off-line, and work without distraction for an hour before connecting and caving in for a little while. Disconnect again for more distraction-free work. Productivity soars, you work less, and soon you're sipping Margaritas on a deserted beach in Baha, work a distant memory.
Leo Babauta blogs regularly about achieving goals and becoming productive through daily habits on Zen Habits. Read his articles on doubling your productivity, keeping your inbox empty, and becoming an early riser.