Microsoft is working on an HTML5-enabled version of its Hotmail Web application, according to a new report from ZDNet. The updated version will deliver offline storage capabilities, which means webmail users will be able to access their email even when an Internet connection is not available. A similar feature is supposedly in the works for Gmail, Hotmail's top competitor, as well.

With Microsoft's initiatives in the area of HTML5 (the next major revision of the Web's core markup language), including its HTML5-enabled version of Bing search, and updates to Microsoft's Internet Explorer 9 Web browser, it wouldn't be surprising to hear that Microsoft is indeed working on an HTML5-enabled Hotmail Web application, too. But will Microsoft actually release it before Google does the same for Gmail? That could make things interesting.

Could Microsoft Actually Beat Google to HTML5-Enabled Offline Storage for Webmail?

In February 2010, Google announced it was shifting all its Google Gears-related efforts to HTML5. Gears, an internally built Web browser plugin, brought offline storage capabilities to a number of Google services, including Gmail, Docs, YouTube, Reader and others. In April 2010, Google announced it would discontinue offline access in Google Docs provided by Gears in favor of HTML5. The transition would be "temporary" Google said. In December, Google announced Docs would have finally HTML5-enabled offline storage once again in "early 2011."

It is now April 2011, and there is still no offline functionality in either Gmail or Docs. According to a post from a Google employee at the beginning of this month on an official Google support forum, the company says it mis-estimated the timeline for the change in Docs.

"Hi all,

We're sorry we mis-estimated the timeline for when we'd have offline functionality again. While we try to provide accurate information around when features will be released, in some instances we can be wrong in guessing how long it'll take to build something. Morever, it's more important for us to launch with as few bugs as possible, which can only happen after much testing and iteration.

Rest assured that our engineering team is working hard to bring offline back. Hope you'll stick around and be patient with us for a bit longer."

Small Advances in HTML5 via Mobile and More

That's not to say HTML5 developments have stalled at Google. It has rolled out HTML5-enabled mobile apps, select features and notifications for Gmail, plus HTML5-enabled cloud printing support for mobile users of Docs. It has just not launched offline storage yet.

Meanwhile, although Microsoft never offered any form of offline storage for Hotmail, it has been publicly touting its HTML5 advances recently, including an HTML5 version of Bing search, an HTML5-enabled smartphone experience and HTML5 support in IE9.

Of course, Microsoft's version of HTML5 support for IE may not be the same one the rest of the online community believes in, as ZDNet points out, referencing Firefox's Mike Beltzner's comment skewering Microsoft for Microsoft for describing HTML5 as a "native experience" that works best on Windows. (Oh Microsoft, will you never learn?)

That said, Microsoft at least seems to be making more noise about the HTML5 Web standard in its products these days, while Google is now on record saying it goofed on the timeline for bringing HTML5 to one of its Web services.

With that in mind, let's declare the race to bring us HTML5-enabled offline storage to webmail officially on. Anyone want to take bets on who gets there first?