Two cowboys ride off into the sunset. The younger of the two was brought in to do a specific job for a limited time, while the older has been around for what seems like forever.
I refer respectively to Google Gears and Microsoft Internet Explorer 6. We’ll start with the latter, the browser that would not die, but that seems to have got a lot closer to extinction this year.
The IE6 story is well told, mainly in comic strip form, by Brad Colbow at Smashing Magazine. (By the way, I like Smashing enough to suggest that you sign up for its newsletter and for a chance to win some of the cool giveaways.)
So, on to the story of the Mountain View Kid: Google Gears. Gears’ most striking feature is that it allows you to access the web without an internet connection. It is of course necessary that the browser and the sites you’re using are Gears-enabled.
So why can the Kid? Because offline access to the web belongs in web standards. So Google has shifted effort away from Gears itself and “towards bringing all of the Gears capabilities into web standards like HTML5” (quoting from the Gears API blog).
Reaction to the Gears news seems to have been positive. To some, it looks good because standards are good (and I think they are usually better than the alternative). To others, the news about Gears looks good because Gears itself wasn’t (and my own limited use of Gears did yield some rather weird results).
MG at TechCrunch thinks that Gears deserves to die because it is guilty of being a plugin, and plugins fragment the web. While I see what he means, I don’t think all plugins are equally guilty. For example, without Gears, I need an internet connection to access the web, but I’m used to that. Flash is far more guilty: without it, much of the web is unusable.
In sum, I’m glad that each of these two cowboys is taking a last ride. To mix metaphors, the web will be a less tangled place without them.
Thanks to German Vidal for making the photo available under Creative Commons.