Google has finally released an off-line feature for Google Mail, Calender and Docs. Those with good long-term memory will recall Google's last attempt at this feature -- Google Gears, launched in May 2007 and pulled in May 2010 from Gmail. Since its demise in Mail we have been waiting for a replacement and now we have it after 15 months, or the first attempt at least.

To summarise, off-line access allows the user to interact with the services when the computer is not connected to the internet.  When you are on-line data is constantly sent to a local database for reference when off-line.  Anything you create when off-line is stored in the database and synchronised/sent once you go on-line.

Surprisingly Gmail Offline is only available via the Google Chrome browser!  Gears was available in a number of popular browsers but Google have decided only to allow off-line access if you use Chrome.  They are citing technically reasons for this.

The HTML 5 standard has database features built-in, however Google say there is not quite enough functionality to support their requirements (especially background page updating -- e.g. on-line Gmail updating your local database).  Of course they hope to offer off-line mode in other browser but this will rely on those other developers adjusting their own browsers to support non-standard HTML5 code. Google's philosophy revolves around all your apps running in standard browser technology, but Google also doesn't wish to wait for these standard to develop. so it pushes on regardless if it needs to.

This all has sounds familiar -- Microsoft developed so many add-ons which only worked in Internet Explorer, making some websites totally inaccessible to other browsers.  They realised the error of their ways and have now almost produced a  fully HTML compliant browser!

Putting aside the technical aspects, the new Offline Gmail is a little different in the interface -- rather than stick to what the user is familiar with on the web, Google offer you a totally different off-line experience.  Don't get me wrong, it is a nice experience, and anyone who has used web based GMail on a iPad will immediately recognise it.  Google have basically taken the tablet version and turned it into the off-line version too.

The off-line version has a way to go with many features missing, but the basis are there.  You can not, for example, access your contacts (other than the email address when composing a new message); there is also no message formatting/styling.

Perhaps the most glaring omission compared to Gears is any kind of configuration of the off-line feature.  Previously you could decide how much was stored off-line (.e.g the last months worth of emails), however there appears no such option.  So will it download all 4Gb of my email or is it preset to a limit?  I could not find any detail on this.

Calendar offers a similar experience to the on-line version with a few missing features.  Goggle Docs, on the other hand is very restricted and you can only view docs when in off-line mode.  Google say off-line editing in coming later.

Off-line apps are available for free in the Chrome Web store for mail, calendar, and docs.  Alternatively, once you have installed the mail App from the store you can click on the settings cog (top right) in Calendar and Docs to enable off-line.

site by DAJ