Google (GOOG -- don't you wish you had bought their stock during their IPO?) recently announced a developer release of a new service called Google Gears.
Gears is a browser extension (mini-programs that extend the functionality of one's web browser), which allows one to access web-based applications off-line (which may sound like a paradox). While this is a developer release (which means it's in the very early testing stages), Google Gears has the potential for becoming a very useful and routine tool for people who use mobile computers to access the Internet when an Internet connection isn't available (Ms. Berger provides a great web-site that explains, in pretty simple English, a lot of common computer jargon).
For instance, one of the uses of Google Gears is to enable one to read off-line up to 2,000 entries that have been set up in Google Reader, even if one isn't able to get on-line. This is because the entries will be stored locally, on one's own computer.
This service will also benefit those individuals who still use dial-up to access the Internet, as they will be able to download the latest entries in their Google Reader accounts, go off-line, and read them at their leisure.
What most interests me about this new service, however, is that Google has released this as an open-source project. As an advocate of open source myself, I applaud them for doing so. Of course, the bread-and-butter of Google's revenue (search) is a very, very closed-source company secret. I'd love to see Google go open-source with many more of their secondary (and tertiary) applications.
While it would be nice for them to open-source their proprietary, closed-source search engine methodology (one can dream, can one not?), I do understand that this is, essentially, their primary asset. Additionally, unlike Microsoft, I don't see Google as being in danger of many of the risks that most other closed-source software faces, given the hundreds or thousands of programmers that they have devoted to fine-tuning their search engine algorithms.
[Updated 13 June 2007]PC Magazine online wrote about a recent review of Google Gears by eWeek.