Uh-oh, Google Doc’s offline mode is going…well…offline. Starting May 3rd, offline access for Google Docs, the Internet search giant’s web office suite, home to an online document editor, spreadsheet editor and slideshow creator, will be disabled. Previously, users had been able to take advantage of the offline functionality provided by Google Gears, an open source browser extension which allowed for both the viewing and editing of files when an Internet connection was not present. Soon, the Gears-enabled feature will be no more. But have no fear – this setback is only temporary..at least that’s what a company blog post says.
In the plugin’s place, there will be a “new and improved” HTML5-based offline option which will replace the former solution, but its exact launch date is still unknown.
Considering all the new features that arrived in Google Docs on Monday, including things like real-time edits, faster performance, collaborative drawing tools and improved document fidelity, it’s no surprise that the mention of the improved offline mode (way down at the bottom of the post) was a bit glossed over in the rush by news editors to detail all of Docs’ new functionality.
However, it’s the introduction of HTML5 offline mode that may be the biggest and most important change of them all.
From Plugins to Web Standards
To understand why, you have to first look at how Google handles offline access now, a feature also found in Gmail and Google Calendar in addition to Docs. At the moment, these web apps go offline if and only if you’ve installed the Google Gears browser plugin. Unfortunately, not all browsers can properly run this plugin. For example, Mac’s Snow Leopard OS and Safari 4 web browser introduced some features which were incompatible with Gears on newer Mac computers. Internet Explorer users could never view spreadsheets offline and users of “alternative” browsers, like the Mozilla-based Flock for example, had to jump through hoops to make it work. And Google Gears on the iPhone? Forget about it.
A better solution is HTML5, the next revision to the markup language used to code the web. The benefit to making this switch is obvious: HTML5 is a web standard, not a browser plugin. That means it will be supported across web browsers and operating systems, assuming users have updated to a modern browser instead of continuing to run IE6 (who are you people, anyway?!) It also means that Apple can’t kick it off the iPhone and iPad the way they did with Adobe’s Flash plugin. In fact, it means that Google doesn’t have to worry about Apple’s restrictions at all, the way iPhone and iPad application developers do. Google just has to build a mobile-friendly website using standards-based technology. The end result will be an Internet-based document creation tool and editor that can work anywhere, anytime, even when the Internet doesn’t.
And that, in a nutshell, is the future of the web. Mobilized applications that behave like desktop apps, available with or without an Internet connection and that work on any device. Even the iPad. We can’t wait to try it out.
No word yet on how long, exactly, we’ll have to go without offline access in Docs before the HTML5 solution is ready, but Google’s hosting a webinar next week to share more. Hopefully, further details will arrive then.