Innovative Web Office startup Zoho has beaten Google to the punch again, announcing offline support for the newly public Zoho Mail tonight. Ironically Zoho is using Google Gears to enable offline functionality in Zoho Mail - see the video below by the Google Developer team. Zoho also beat Google to offline support in online word processing, again using Gears, by launching that functionality in November 2007. Google followed up with offline support for Google Docs at the end of March 2008.

We wrote in July about speculation that Google will start rolling out offline support for both Gmail and Google Calendar through Google Gears within the next six weeks. Didn't happen.

However Yahoo Mail did come up with offline functionality in July - it gave offline access to all free and paid Yahoo Mail users through the Yahoo Zimbra Desktop. Earlier this week Yahoo announced further Zimbra integration, this time with its Calendar app.

So Google is well and truly behind the times with offline support for web mail. However the Google white coats are having a fine old time tinkering with mail stuff in their labs - tonight Google Labs announced Advanced IMAP Controls, which lets you "fine-tune your Gmail IMAP experience."

To be fair, Google probably isn't worried about Zoho coming out with offline functionality in its mail product before Gmail has. For one thing Google is so big it can afford to wait until it's good and ready, despite Gmail fans yearning for offline support! But also Google probably sees Zoho less as a competitor at this point (even though Zoho does compete directly against Google Apps) and more as an evangelist for its technology - such as Google Gears.

To access mail offline in Zoho Mail, you'll need Google Gears installed on your browser - at this point IE and Firefox are supported. Chrome and Safari support is coming. According to Zoho's blog, you can also download images and attachments in offline mode. Another cool feature is that Zoho Mail automatically detects your connectivity and switches to online/offline modes.

Here is the video, also available on Google Code blog: