Gmail gets to go offline again -- but only for Chrome users

Google launches HTML5-powered Gmail Offline app and promises more offline capabilities for Calendar and Docs

Google has evidently surrendered to the reality that Internet access is still neither ubiquitous nor seamless. The company re-introduced offline capabilities for Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs today, giving Google users an opportunity to remain at least a bit more productive at times when getting online is impossible or undesirable.

Critics have long chided Google for failing to provide any sort of offline capabilities for its productivity apps. The shortcoming has arguably been a barrier to broader adoption of Google Docs, Gmail, and the like, as well as a ding against the Chromebook. Kudos to Google for accepting that the rest of the world isn't as Internet-connected as, say, the Googleplex in Silicon Valley.

The most notable part of the announcement is the unveiling of Gmail Offline, a downloadable Chrome Web Store app that enables users to read, respond to, organize, and archive email without an Internet connection. Once a connection is lost, a user need only click the Gmail Offline icon on Chrome's "new tab" page. When the user gets back online, everything automatically syncs up.

Gmail Offline is an HTML5 application that takes advantage of such features as application caching and offline storage; however, for the time being, it requires Chrome because it relies on some of the browser's specific features, such as background syncing. According to Google, all the underlying technology is entirely open, meaning developers could get Gmail Offline to run in a non-Google browser.

The offline capabilities available for Google Calendar and Google Docs are a bit less compelling for now. When a user uses Calendar offline, he or she can view events and RSVP to appointments. With Docs, a user can simply view documents and spreadsheets. Google is not currently offering an offline version of either application; rather, a user can get started with either by clicking the gear icon in Chrome and select offline access.

Google does plan to bolster the offline capabilities for the aforementioned apps, adding support for offline document editing and the ability to customize email synchronization. However, company reps were mum as to when those features might see the light of day.

This story, "Gmail gets to go offline again -- but only for Chrome users," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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