Google is long overdue to add their own Gears support to their apps, but they can cross another one off of their to-do list today. Gmail now supports an Offline mode, although it’s experimental for now. That means you’ll find it within the Labs settings of Gmail. I already see it in my personal Gmail account, but not in my hosted Gmail used for work.
Once you enable the feature, Gmail will pull down and store a local copy of your mailbox. So unlike the Gears support in Google Reader that I use often, you don’t need to “take” your mail offline. Instead, Gmail will intelligently switch to offline mode by itself whenever it realizes there’s no connection. At that point, you can take action on your local mail store and create new messages. Once Gmail sees a connection, those actions take place on the server side and mail sitting in your Outbox is sent. Google even offers a “flaky connection mode” for when your signal is playing hide-and-seek. In this mode, it works from your local offline cache but tries to synchronize in the background.
You’ll need Google Gears of course, which is supported on IE, Firefox Safari and Chrome. I enabled the Offline mode on my netbook running Google Chrome on Windows 7 and the install process only took a few minutes. Once you enable the feature in Labs, you’ll see an “Offline” link in your Inbox. Clicking that pulls down a local copy of your mail and offers to set shortcuts for Gmail on your Desktop or Quick Launch toolbar.
The creation of your local mail store could take a while and is dependent on how much mail you actually have in Gmail. I’ve been using Gmail for a few years, so I was worried that 5GB of mail was about to float down. However, the default setting is for e-mail six months old or less, which isn’t too bad. Mail with Trash or Spam labels aren’t pulled down, so that helps as well.
Google’s official help page for Offline Gmail offers additional useful info. Interestingly, it says that this feature is limited to IE7, Firefox 2 and 3, with support for other browsers too. As I mentioned, I’m using it on Google Chrome, which I certainly figured would be supported out of the gate.
Not sure if you’re online or off? These icons ought to help:
When I’m out and about, I often turn disable my Wi-Fi or 3G modem to save battery life on my notebook or netbook. The obvious problem with a web-based Gmail solution is that I’m dead in the water in terms of e-mail during that time. Now, I can work offline just like I did when using Outlook and an Exchange solution. Nice! If you use Gmail in either U.S. or UK English, watch for the new Offline support in Labs.
Update: I didn’t initially think to check attchments in email when offline. All I have in my Inbox is an Excel spreadsheet that received last week. I hit the “View as HTML” link and was able to view the spreadsheet. I suspect that offline access will offer an HTML attachment view when possible, but my testing is very limited so far. I also tested Gmail’s search feature while offline: results were found quickly and Google included a disclaimer in the results stating that additional results might be available when online.