We’ve been waiting for this one for some time. Google has finally released offline access for Gmail and Google Calendar. This is seriously cool stuff.
As many of our clients know, we are firm beleivers in Google Applications. Gmail is fast and universally accessible, Google Calendar can be synced to any device, and Google Documents is allowing for some unbeleivable new functionality in the world of document editing and sharing. But the main problem with these solutions has always been that you need to be online. This cuts out access to calendar, email, and documents when you are on a plane, or not near a WiFi connection. Now that’s all changed.
Google now allows offline access to mail and calendar through the use of a browser plugin called Google Gears. Google Gears can be installed into Firefox or Internet Explorer, and is built in to Chrome (Google’s new browser). Sorry Safari users, no Gears for you yet (Mac users can install Firefox.) Gears installs into your web browser and allows you to sync certain websites to your computer for offline browsing.
Google Gears with Gmail allows you to view your emails when you are offline, and even compose emails (they will be sent next time you are connected to the internet in Gmail, though for some reason you can’t use attachments yet.) You can also view appointments in Gcal, and even create new ones, which will be synced the next time you log in online. Another innovative feature – Google has a “Flaky Connection” mode for bad connections – it will switch into Google gears when the connection drops, and sync up when it comes back.
Here’s how you can set up Offline Mode for Gmail and Google Calendar. Note that this access is still in Beta (experimental.) Google warns that aspects of the service, and sometimes the whole service, may come and go as they test it, so don’t rely on this 100%.
To enable Offline Mode:
1) First you’ll need to either download Google Chrome (www.google.com/chrome) or get Google Gears for your Internet Explorer or Firefox browser (http://gears.google.com.)
2) Next you’ll need to sign up a Gmail account if you don’t have one. If you do, log in to Gmail.
3) In the top of the Gmail page, look for the menu item “Settings” and click on it. From the settings page, click on the “Labs” tab. If you don’t have a Labs tab, check back periodically as Google sometimes takes a while to add it to your account.
4) In the “Labs” page, the first lab should be “Offline”. Just click on “Enable” next to offline. If you don’t see it, you don’t have it right now. Nothing you can do but wait for it to appear, check back next week. Once you’ve clicked “Enable” then click “Save Changes”
5) You’re ready to go. Just click “Offline” in the upper-right hand menu of your Mail or Calendar and Google will start to download your messages and appointments. It will give you a status indicator as well, and you can work away while it downloads. Just be sure not to close your browser or you won’t have everything synced up. Google will let you know when it’s done.
A few notes about Google Offline:
1) Don’t forget it’s still in early testing. Features may come and go.
2) If you have a lot of messages, you might not get all of them Offline. Google downloads up to abotu 10,000 emails. We don’t know how it picks and chooses, but it has some intelligent method of selecting them so your most needed emails are more likely to be there.
3) Google Gears is per-browser. So if you sync up with Firefox, you won’t see your ofline mail in Chrome, etc. This also means that if you sync up in multiple browsers, you’ll have mutliple copies of your messages on your computer (which takes more storage.)
4) Finally, this syncing represents something of a security concern. In the past, all of your content was stored on Google’s servers and security was their concern. Now, your browsers will have copies of all of your mail, sensitive or otherwise. In many ways, this is nothign new, as any Outlook or Mail.app user has the same issue, but it’s a new issue for Gmail users.
We hope you find this guide usefel. Check out Google Offline access and let us know what you think in the comments.