An early version of the tool, Google Gears, was announced at an event for developers in Sydney, Australia, in the hopes that developers will offer input that improves the open source technology. Google is also adding offline functionality to Google Reader, a free service that provides a feed to users' favorite news sites and blogs.
After downloading the Gears browser extension, users will be able to view content in their Web browsers via Google Reader even when they're not connected to the Internet. Content can only be updated when they are connected.
"What Gears is, first and foremost, is our attempt to address this limitation of Web applications," says Linus Upson, director of engineering for Google Gears. "Today, Web applications tend not to work so well when you don't have a net connection. This is the most common complaint consumers have when people use Web applications Google offers."
Offline use of Google Reader might appeal to people on long airplane rides, Google officials say.
Google Gears appears to be a new approach to Web development, says Gartner analyst David Mitchell Smith. Mozilla has worked on supporting certain applications while offline in Firefox, but Google Gears will work in multiple browsers, he says.
The devil will be in the details, though. It will take time to see whether developers gravitate toward Google Gears and use it to make worthwhile applications, he says. One potential concern for Google is that people might think the Gears download will make every Web application work offline, he says. While Gears adds capabilities to the browser, each application will have to be modified to support offline use.
Developers will be able to use Google Gears right away, but it is far from a finished product, its makers say. Bret Taylor, who is in charge of Google's developer program, says "we're actually releasing Gears at an early developer preview stage. It's not done yet. ... We want to get input from the developer community."
Google officials hope makers of Web browsers will eventually embed offline capabilities within their products so users won't have to download an extension. "We want to have a single, open standard that all the browser providers can offer," Upson says.
Google Gears will be available at this Web site.