Google Gears will help people take information from web-based programs and use it offline, enabling them to use services that usually requires a web connection on a computer's hard disk instead. The system is also being opened up to allow independent developers to create their own products based on the concept.
The announcement will be watched closely by Microsoft, which recently launched its own system, Silverlight, for bridging the gap between the online and offline worlds. The arrival of Gears could be particularly threatening because it is likely to help Google Docs, the company's suite of office software, make a concerted challenge to Microsoft's core office software business.
Docs - which incorporates word processing, spreadsheet and presentation programs - works only with an active internet connection. Allowing it to operate on a computer's hard drive would bring it into competition with the dominant Microsoft Office brand and mark the latest step in Google's slow but inexorable invasion of the Seattle-based software company's territory.
Eric Schmidt, Google's chief executive, said that giving external programmers the ability to develop system would strengthen its position.
"With Google Gears, we're tackling a key limitation of the browser in order to make it a stronger platform for deploying all types of applications," he said. "We believe strongly in the power of the community to stretch this new technology to the limits and ultimately emerge with an open standard that benefits everyone."