Google Inc. on Wednesday introduced a new way for computer users to use its webapplicationswhen they are offline, a move that could extend the company's reach beyond its search engine and further blurs the line between desktop and internet software.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company unveiled a beta version of Google Gears, a web browser plug-in that allows developers to add offline access to web applications.

Gears opens an offline door to software programs that until now have been inaccessible without an internet connection, enabling users to synchronize their computers with online applications and then use the programs offline.

The company said initially only its reader application — which allows users to check the latest RSS content from news websites and blogs — will work offline, allowing people to read content stored on their local machines and synchronize later with the online feed.

"This fills a gap for us," said Jeff Huber, a vice-president of engineering at Google. "The internet is great, but you can't always be plugged in to it."

Other programs will be added, said Huber, citing Google's e-mail, calendar, word processing and spreadsheet programs as logical candidates.

This latest move for the company provides another direct challenge to Microsoft Corp., the market leader in desktop software.

In February, Google launched an online suite of business software that includes e-mail, word processing, spreadsheets and calendar management in what analysts said was a challenge to Microsoft's Office and IBM's Lotus suites.

The Google Gears tool joins a growing number of applications designed to allow web applications to work offline. Adobe Systems recently published its Apollo platform, software that allows developers to create desktop-style applications using HTML, Flash, Javascript and XML, scripts traditionally used for web applications.

And last month Microsoft and Adobe each unveiled products designed to grab a stake in the other's share of the online video market.

Adobe announced its Adobe Media Player, a standalone desktop version of its popular Flash Player browser plug-in, while Microsoft introduced Silverlight, a web browser plug-in for playing media files and interactive web applications.

With files from the Associated Press