Google Labs Introduces Gmail Offline

Lori Halley 24 February 2009 7 comments

Many organizations use Gmail to manage their email, because its generous storage space, ability to use your own domain, and system of tags and filters make it easy to organize email communications. One drawback of Gmail, however — as with any web-based email — is the need for an internet connection to be able to use it.

When you’re stuck on a planes, in a waiting room, or in other places without Web access, it can be frustrating not to be able to get to your email and make productive use of that time.

And that’s where the new Gmail Offline comes in.

This is a beta feature from Google Labs, which means there are a few limitations and users are cautioned to expect a few bugs — but I’ve been testing Gmail Offline on a modest middle-aged laptop for the past few weeks and have found it remarkably stable and useful.

You have to wait until you’re connected to the Internet again to be able to access new messages, of course, or to send any email you’ve got queued up to go out. You also won’t be able to access your Contacts list when working offline, but the auto-complete of email addresses does work so that’s not likely to be a show-stopping issue. The only limitation that I’ve found really significant is that attachments cannot be accessed in offline mode — but this actually makes sense, as synchronizing large files between Gmail and your own computer would take a great deal of time and local storage space.

To use Gmail Offline,  you’ll need a Gmail account and an open-source browser extension called Gears that will let Gmail store a local copy of your email files on your computer. Gmail Offline is only available for English language Gmail accounts at present.

 

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Tuesday, 24 February 2009 at 1:27 PM

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Comments

  • Adam said:

    Tuesday, 24 February 2009 at 6:14 AM

    Actually, all of Gmail is still in beta. It seems like Google attaches beta to all that they do. You could of course, just use any email reader and use POP to access your emails.

  • Craig said:

    Tuesday, 10 March 2009 at 4:06 PM

    Wow, offline access to email. What a novel concept! No, wait, wasn't that invented a few decades ago? Do POP and IMAP ring any bells? Call me a Luddite, but "offline webmail" is like someone saying they've just thought of replacing their steam engine with an internal combustion engine. Are those of us that have been driving cars for decades supposed to think this is a new idea?

    As for this: "The only limitation that I've found really significant is that attachments cannot be accessed in offline mode — but this actually makes sense, as synchronizing large files between Gmail and your own computer would take a great deal of time and local storage space."

    Large files? Umm, again, POP and IMAP anyone? Broadband? I have far more than 2 GB of email on my own computer, and the size of the average hard drive in a low-end computer makes Gmail's lauded 2 GB seem rather puny, don't you think?

    What's next? Will someone invent the colour fax machine? Oh darn, that was *also* invented decades ago! Anyone have any new ideas?

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Tuesday, 10 March 2009 at 6:58 PM

    Update: Attachments have been enabled for Gmail Offline - with the ability to specify a maximum size for attachments you want to download during synchronization. It's quick to change through a dropdown, if you need to make adjustments as you go along - and again, this is particularly of interest to those with slow connections or limited internet access. Obviously, as with any tool, Gmail Offline's not for everyone - but for those who do find it useful, the max-download feature marks an improvement on the original beta release. And now that Google Calendar has also been made available in Gears-driven offline version, "What's next?" is indeed the question! Perhaps Google has sensed something in the zeitgeist to prompt a handing-back of control from the cloud to the local?

  • Deb said:

    Thursday, 12 March 2009 at 4:41 PM

    If I delete/clean my mail offline, when it connects, will deleted email remain deleted or will I have to re-delete online?

    Where is the data stored on my hard drive (so I can delete very large attachments that are taking up too much space in my 40GB laptop HD)? I can't locate it in the c:/documents and settings/<username>/Local settings/application data/google folder where I expected to see it?

    Can I change the location for easier backing up?

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Thursday, 12 March 2009 at 5:31 PM

    Deb, have you had a look at the Gmail Offline Help group for tips on usage? Specifically, this bit http://groups.google.com/group/gmail-labs-help-offline/web/changes-offline-arent-visible-online explains that your offline actions will synchronize with the online Gmail when your internet connection is restored.

    I haven't looked to see where data is stored - not sure why you'd want to change the location? The synchronization is on-going whenever you're connected to the internet, rather than being an all-at-once manual backup, so the best way to deal with large attachments with your space issue would likely be to use the new feature that lets you set the maximum attachment size limit.

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Thursday, 12 March 2009 at 5:35 PM

    Deb, here's the page that tells where your data is stored:

    http://gears.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=79850

    The storage location depends on what browser you're using -- which makes sense, now I think about it, since Gears is a browser add-on! :)

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Thursday, 19 March 2009 at 3:58 PM

    Another new Gmail feature just popped up in Google Labs - not big enough to warrant a post of its own but I thought I'd mention it here, as it's quite interesting:

    "Undo Send" gives you 5 seconds to call back an email before it goes out of the Gmail queue. Granted, 5 seconds is not a lot of time, but for those of us who realize an error the instant we click the Send button, it could save a blush or two!

    Of course, that brings to mind another advantage to working with Gmail in Offline mode - you get a lot more than 5 seconds for second thoughts! - because, of course, the email you "send" when offline can't actually go out until you re-connect to the Internet.

Sorry, this blog post is closed for further comments.