Gmail goes offline

  • Mountain View (CA) - Google has been playing with Gears technology for couple of years now, having leveraged its potential to harness offline functionality in its web applications such as Reader and Google Docs. The welcomed addition became an instant hit in these applications since it keeps users in sync with their online content when they need it most - offline. For instance, Google Docs users can continue working on documents they keep up in the cloud even when their network connection goes down. It will automatically sync changes made in offline mode the next time they're online. What most users wanted though, is an offline mode in Gmail so their account would be at their disposal while in offline mode, including the ability to read messages and reply to them.

    After months of experimenting and anticipation, Google finally feels confident enough to release offline GMail feature into the wild. Offline mode should help fill in those gaps when you don't have Internet connection but still need access to your messages, such as during commuting or flights. Offline mode means you can point your browser to gmail.com and get to your mail just like you're used to. "Web-based email is great because you can check it from any computer, but there's one little catch: it's inherently limited by your internet connection," says Google.

    With offline mode, a local cache of messages in your Gmail account are downloaded to your computer. As long as you're connected to the Internet, that cache is synchronized with Gmail's servers. When you lose your connection, Gmail automatically switches to offline mode and uses the data stored on your computer's hard drive instead of the information sent across the network. The only thing that distinguishes offline mode from online is a little icon at the top righthand corner of Gmail window.

    Offline mode lets you read messages, star and label them, and do pretty much everything you would do if you were online. Users can also write new messages with attachments and "send" them. In reality though, these messages go to the outbox folder and will be automatically sent the next time Gmail detects a connection. Google even addressed cases when users are on unreliable or slow connection, citing example when "you're 'borrowing' your neighbor's wireless. In these instances users can choose "flaky connection mode," which is somewhere in between: It uses the local cache as if you were disconnected, but still synchronizes your mail with the server in the background.

    Gears technology makes it work. People who have already lived in the cloud for some time know Google brought offline mode to several other services in order to bridge the divide between online and offline applications, most notably in Reader and Google Docs (Calendar is rumored to be next on the list for offline treatment). Thanks to Gears, applications like Gmail, Google Docs and Reader can sync a user's content in the cloud with their local, secure, searchable database. It ensure that changes their web applications make to the local database while offline reflect back into the cloud whenever a user connects to the Internet (and vice versa). In short, Gears enables you to run supported web applications in the browser and edit online content as if you were connected to the Internet.

    Manual enablement required. The offline feature will be gradually enabled in all Gmail markets over the next couple of days, starting with US and UK English markets. As always, Google is rolling this out as an experimental feature that has to be first turned on in Settings under the Labs tab. From there, select Enable next to Offline Gmail and click Save Changes. After your browser reloads, there will be a new "Offline" option in the upper right-hand corner of Gmail window next to your username. If you click it, Gmail will go into offline mode and start downloading messages to your computer in the background. The feature works in tandem with Google's Gears technology, so make sure you download Gears browser extension before you use offline mode.

     

    BRIDGING THE DIVIDE
    New offline mode in Gmail lets you read, star, label, write and send messages in your browser as if you were online. Changes automatically sync back and forth in the background whenever a connection is available.