This week Google pulled out the big guns, firing a shot across the bow of Microsoft's core desktop software model with a technology called Google Gears that promises to enable offline use of Web apps.
The lack of offline access has long been a deficiency of Web applications vis-a-vis their local hard-drive stored desktop cousins -- especially for business users who can't afford unexpected downtime. But if Google Gears pans out, the playing field levels; travelers will be able to work on Web-based data remotely in-flight (a godsend to any habitually airplane-confined businessperson), and computer users in places and countries where broadband availability is spotty and unreliable will get access to e-mail when disconnected.
From a business perspective, this could accelerate the shifting of the software development landscape, which is already swirling with the advent of Web 2.0, AJAX and software-as-a-service. Think about it: Microsoft has made a fortune selling its own fat-client desktop software and providing the platform for legions of third-party developers to write applications that run on Windows the world over. Many of those same ISVs have stuck with Microsoft as their primary platform because the desktop/server model provides all-access-all-the-time for their applications, a big demand among corporate customers.
Now, with this latest salvo from Google, Web apps are taking a major leap forward in terms of maturity, and ISVs have more options. Google is planning to release Google Gears as open-source software and allow ISVs to incorporate the technology into their own applications and extend it. Adobe has already signed on as an early partner, according to Google.
Google's own products will get the Gears treatment, which means eventually the company's word processor, spreadsheet and other business apps will work offline, better positioning them against Microsoft Office. Microsoft, to date, has not been willing to go the other way with its franchise player; Office remains a desktop/server proposition and is not served up online. Long run, this could become a competitive challenge for the Redmond, Wash., market leader.
From a channel perspective, choice is a good thing for you and the customer. Business-based Web applications that can run online and offline present a nice sales pitch and an alternative to the Microsoft juggernaut. Will Google's latest shot make a dent into the loyalty of Microsoft's huge developer community? How about the business apps market?
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