This is certainly newsworthy. Google announced Gears, which is something that you install on your desktop to be able to operate online applications offline. I remember about 3 to 5 years ago when Google said, no, we’re not interested in desktop, because it’s not what we’re good at. We’re doing search.
If anything I think they learned from Netscape’s mistake in the past. Marc Andersen, the founder of Netscape, announced that, as a startup, they were taking on Microsoft, and was going to beat it to the ground. Of course, when you use strong words like that, you’re going to get Bill Gate’s attention, and it’s always dangerous to wake a sleeping dragon, when you’re not bigger yourself.
Despite the ever growing ubiquity of wireless connections and connectivity all around, I think there’s still a place for offline applications. This sort of thing to me, isn’t really about being able to do your work on planes, though it’s certainly useful for that. To me, this is about caching results that the user might possibly want to see/do next, so that the user experience is fast and responsive without possible network latency. While AJAX is fast, and tolerable for most things, I imagine that there will be some applications that can make good use of this type of offline caching mechanism, so that what was impossible before is now possible.
Of course, caching is irrelevant when the bandwidth is high, but you will either find yourself 1) in places where bandwidth is lower or 2) the bandwidth requirement for your dataset is higher than what you currently have. Mapping applications come to mind as benefiting a lot from caching mechanisms. And if bandwidth jumps up, that makes caching in mapping applications obsolete, there will be other datasets that will be too large to stream in the future. I can only imagine classifiers or their training data sets being one example, as well as a record of the user’s digital life.
Update: I didn’t mention this, but I think it makes even more sense for mobile devices, per this opengardens post on it.