Gmail Labs testing area and will be implemented as a standard feature for all users. Once enabled, this feature allows you to access your Gmail even when no internet connection is available. You can read and respond to messages, star them or label them just as you would if you were online. When a connection is restored, all the changes you made are synced with Google's servers and any messages in your Outbox are sent out.This morning Google announced that "offline Gmail" is leaving the
As of today, all Gmail users will now have this feature turned on by default, however those who have never used it before will need to configure it first in order to take advantage of the enhanced functionality.
Gears Makes a Public Debut
The Labs section of Gmail is where experimental and in-development programs, add-ons, and extra features are housed, allowing Gmail users to switch them on or off as desired. Offline Gmail was one of those experiments, launched back in January of this year. Using Gears, an open source plug-in technology designed by Google, email messages are downloaded to your local machine when you switch to offline mode. Also, if your internet connection is dropped unexpectedly, offline Gmail is automatically enabled.
In the year in which offline Gmail has been in testing, the company says they received a lot of feedback from users. Some of the requested features have already been implemented, including the ability to choose which messages get downloaded for offline use and the ability to send attachments while offline.
According to the Google blog post, anyone who was already running the Labs version of offline Gmail won't have to make any changes but those who had never turned on the setting will need to do the following:
- Click the "Settings" link in the top-right corner of Gmail.
- Click the "Offline" tab.
- Select "Enable Offline Mail for this computer."
- Click "Save Changes" and follow the directions from there.
But Isn't Google Switching to HTML5?
At first it seems like "graduating" offline Gmail from Labs is step in preparation for next year's launch of Google Chrome OS, the web-based operating system that ditches the desktop, the hard drive, and computer applications for a web browser where everything users access lives online. Because online applications require an internet connection to work, there have been some concerns as to how functional this OS will be in a world that is not yet blanketed in Wi-Fi or 3G. Since Google has made no mention of built-in hardware providing 3G and cellular access as a backup to Wi-Fi, there will be a lot of programs that simply don't work when you go offline... that is, except for the programs that Google develops itself.
The company has already implemented its Gears plug-in on two other products in addition to Gmail: Google Reader and Google Docs. Meanwhile, other companies have also adopted the technology including online office suite Zoho and to-do list app Remember the Milk.
What's odd about this launch of Google Gears into primetime via Gmail is that this seems to conflict a bit with what Google execs announced last month regarding the company's plans for its upcoming operating system, Chrome OS. During the Q&A session at the end of the press event, an audience member asked about Google Gears support to which Google's vice president of product management, Sundar Pichai, replied by saying that Chrome OS will take advantage of HTML5 for local storage. He made no mention of Gears.
HTML5, a proposed revision to HTML, the markup language of the World Wide Web, includes offline storage as one of its many new features. And it's this specification that Google plans to support in the future, not Gears, according to numerous reports.
For example, in a recent article in the L.A. Times, a Google spokesperson was quoted as saying: "We are excited that much of the technology in Gears, including offline support and geolocation APIs, are being incorporated into the HTML5 spec as an open standard supported across browsers, and see that as the logical next step for developers looking to include these features in their websites."
Also, Linus Upson, the engineering director at Google told PC Magazine that the company was abandoning its work on Gears 2, the next version of the plug-in, and will be focused on HTML5 instead. "You can almost think of what's in HTML5, with app cache, and database, and those things, as essentially Gears [version] 2," he said. "That's how we view it." Upson noted, too, that the company would be able to influence the adoption of HTML5 through their web browser, Google Chrome, the foundation of the new Chrome OS. "Now that we're a browser vendor, we can help move HTML5 forward not as a plug-in, but as part of Chrome," Upson said.
So in other words, the Gears functionality being switched on now in Gmail may not be the same technology used a year from now when Google Chrome OS hits the market. That begs the question: why bother? If Google plans to replace Gears with HTML5 in the near future what's the point of rolling out the soon-to-be abandoned plug-in to all its users now? Will Gears and HTML5 converge somehow or will Google just rip out the plug-in in favor of HTML5's "plug-in-less" technology instead? Let us know what you think in the comments.