Until today, one of the biggest drawbacks of Gmail is that you could not go through your emails when you were offline. Today, that changes. Gmail is finally going offline. Google is rolling out a Google Gears version of Gmail that will be available to users starting today in Gmail Labs. (If you don’t see it, keep checking, the rollout to all users should be complete by the end of the week).
After installing the Google Gears plug-in to your browser, Gmail detects when you are offline. It caches your e-mail so that you can read it, respond to it, search it, star it, or label it. When you are connected to the Internet again, it sends all the messages. You can even open attachments. This is exactly the way Gmail already works on mobile phones such as the Android and those that support Gears. In fact, according to Gmail product manager Todd Jackson, who briefed me earlier today:
The underlying sync engine is exactly the same for Android and offline Gmail.
Some features, however, won’t work. Anything that requires an Internet connection, such as spellcheck, won’t work offline. And while you can open attachments, you won’t be able to add attachments at launch (that feature will be added soon, however).
Google Gears is a key part of the company’s Web app strategy. An Gears version of Google Docs was introduced in March, 2008. And an offline version of Google Calendar will soon be offered to enterprise customers. Jackson explains:
Our long term vision is that the browser is the ideal platform for deploying all types of applications. We think the most powerful applications should run inside the browser. Historically it has been constrained by the connection.
Throw off those chains, Gmail users.