Offline Applications: A Brighter Future Than You Think

Despite a lot of disagreement about the value of moving web applications offline, I’m starting to believe that there will be a big future for offline apps. Web Worker Daily has hosted some interesting discussions on the topic, with very good input from the readers. One of the common positions that naysayers take is that offline applications will present big problems when it comes to synching with their online incarnations. But, after examining my own usage of offline applications, and watching the progress of Google Gears, I’m convinced that we will see a lot of compelling offline applications.

What’s an example of an offline application? One example would be using GMail offline while sitting on an airplane–drafting and reading messages–and then synching back up when you’re online. When synched, you get your messages that you created sent, and other offline tasks automatically done online. Because the IT department where I work requires us to use Microsoft Outlook, and Outlook has very robust features for working offline and then synching back up online, I already make good use of these features. For a coast-to-coast flight where I won’t have online access, the offline features are absolutely a big convenience.

I’m also encouraged by some of the initiatives I’m seeing from developers for offline applications. Google Gears is attracting more developers for example.

If you’re unfamiliar with Google Gears, it’s still a beta initiative, but as long as you’ve downloaded the main application, you can already run a number of interesting offline applications designed to work with it. For example, there is already a simple offline database application you can use, shown below. This would be useful for tasks such as inputting database entries while offline on a plane, and then automatically synching your entries up with your database when back online.

As another example, there is also a useful little Resource Store demo available, shown below. This does things like capture and store URLs that you want to visit later.

It’s precisely these kinds of simple applications, where all that will be required is efficient synching when back online, that make me think there is a future for offline applications. Of course, Google Gears isn’t the only significant effort in this area. Adobe Air, formerly Apollo, is also of interest, and it will be very interesting to see the offline applications that are slated to arrive in Mozilla Firefox 3. My bet is that offline applications will become widespread. I’d love to hear what others think.

What do you think of offline applications? Are they a bunch of hooey? Do you use any currently?