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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Use GMail offline with Google Gears

Gmail has introduced its latest Labs feature called offline Gmail to enable e-mail access even when you are not connected to the Internet.
While this might sound uber geeky, the concept is simple enough when you actually use it. Oh, and the “offline” mode is already available in a simpler form if you happen to use Outlook or any other email client with Gmail POP access.
Gmail uses its Google Gears open source web application to enable the “offline” mode. Currently, Google lists Firefox 2, 3, and the Internet Explorer 7 in its list of supported browsers. Strangely, there is no mention of Google’s own, the Chrome! However, it might be because Chrome support is obvious.

Browse Gmail offline with Google Gears
Browse Gmail offline with Google Gears

What it does

The feature, which needs to be enabled from under the “Labs” option under “Settings,” downloads e-mails onto your computer and allows access even when there is no Internet connectivity. Users will be able to access most of their emails, reply to them, and view starred and unread messages, just like they do when Gmail is online. When you perform an action that needs web access, Gmail will queue the action and will execute it as soon the connection is restored. While it might not sound very exciting initially, I, for once, can realize how useful this might turn out to be. For many users, Gmail has become a data center, and I suspect that there are many people out there who would want to have a look at their mails and archives even when not connected to the Internet. The best thing is that once this feature is installed, Gmail will be able to go offline or online by detecting the network status, so you do not need to switch on/off the Offline mode manually. There is also this “Flaky Connection Mode” that detects a slow connection and uses the local cache for accessing data, and only uses the server when Gmail needs web access - like when hitting the send button.
Not all Gmail features work, though, in the offline mode. What does work, however, are the sending and replying to emails, searching your archives, and the much-needed auto-complete function. You will not be able to add attachments or add/manage contacts. However, most users will be able to live with such minor inconveniences.


As expected of a Labs feature, this application has been tested internally amongst 20,000 Google employees and has then been made available to the Labs. Not all users may see this enabled in their accounts, but the feature should be available to all in the coming days. As for the issues noticed, I have not seen anything go wrong in the little time that I have used this. However, CNET does report issues of the local cache going out of sync, but most issues can be sorted out by disabling and re-enabling the feature.






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Amar Pratap Singh
Pursuing Bachelor of technology in Electronics and communication engineering in Lucknow, India
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