Google has finally taken a major step to bring online applications into the mainstream — by making them available offline. Despite less-than-credible denials, Google will now be competing overtly head-to-head with Microsoft Office. But Google isn’t content to just compete with Microsoft for control of the office application market — after all, Google has already begun to undermine Microsoft’s monopoly software licensing business model. No, I think Google wants to inflict a truly vicious wound on Microsoft, in the soft underbelly of Microsoft’s core business, in order to weaken Microsoft’s ability to compete with Google for the real prize — online advertising.

Google acquires DoubleClick, and Microsoft responds by acquiring aQuantive. So how does Google respond? By launching Google Gears, an OPEN SOURCE platform that enables not just Google apps to be used offline, but for any developer to make ANY app available offline.

Google Gears is an open source plug-in for browsers, which the firm hopes will lead to the creation of new web standards.

The firm wants many of the people attending its developers conference to use the Gears tools, which are free to use, to adapt their own applications for offline usage.

Using Gears, online data that is usually held on web servers can be stored offline on an individual’s computer, and then synchronised when the user logs back on to the web.

This is brilliant and deeply subversive move by Google. If one of your main competitors actually makes most of its money off of a different business model than the one you’re competing around, then just destroy that business model.

As to the value of offline access for online apps, that will indeed by nothing short of revolutionary. Online apps are great for collaboration and being available to access through any browser. But offline access remained a fundamental limitation. Now that this limitation is removed, the new web app hybrid paradigm will wipe away the old local software paradigm.

I, for one, am VERY much looking forward to having all of my Google apps usable offline.