Wednesday, January 28, 2009

New Experimental Feature Takes GMail Offline

Google's GMail team has announced an experimental feature in Gmail Labs that will allow users to view their GMail offline. The new feature uses Google Gears to download a local cache of your mail to whichever computer you are currently running with the service. As long as that device, be it computer, cell phone or something else, is connected to the internet Gear will synchronize with Gmail's servers.

When you lose your connection, Gmail automatically switches to offline mode, and uses the data stored on your computer's hard drive instead of the information sent across the network. You can read messages, star and label them, and do all of the things you're used to doing while reading your webmail online. Any messages you send while offline will be placed in your outbox and automatically sent the next time Gmail detects a connection. And if you're on an unreliable or slow connection (like when you're "borrowing" your neighbor's wireless), you can choose to use "flaky connection mode," which is somewhere in between: it uses the local cache as if you were disconnected, but still synchronizes your mail with the server in the background. Our goal is to provide nearly the same browser-based Gmail experience whether you're using the data cached on your computer or talking directly to the server.

Google warns that the new offline GMail feature is still an early experimental feature, so don't be surprised if you run into a few bugs. According to been using offline GMail internally for quite a while and they feel comfortable that is is ready to have a larger set of people try it out.

Google will be making offline GMail available to everyone who uses the service in US or UK English over the next couple of days, so if you don't see it under the Labs tab yet, it should be there soon. Once you see it, just follow these steps to get started:
  1. Click Settings and click the Labs tab.
  2. Select Enable next to Offline Gmail.
  3. Click Save Changes.
  4. After your browser reloads, you'll see a new "Offline" link in the upper righthand corner of your account, next to your username. Click this link to start the offline set up process and download Gears if you don't already have it.

Unfortunately they haven't made it available to my account as of yet so I haven't actually had the chance to test it out. It should be noted that the directions above came from Google and they left out the important detail that you must have Gears installed for this to work. That should be an obvious statement but one that shouldn't be overlooked.

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