Gmail’s Offline Experiment

The Gmail Labs team this week announced a feature that could make life much easier for everyone from the business traveler to the broke college student: Gmail Offline.

The idea behind the new feature from Gmail is to give people with no internet connection to still be able to catch up on email while offline. Until now, this has been one of the single biggest down-sides to webmail: no access to the web, no mail. The Labs Team is trying to change that — a change which could ultimately take a bite out of Microsoft Outlook’s small business market.

Once activated, Gmail caches your email locally, allowing you to continue to work as normal. While network access is detected, synchronization continues between your local browser and the Gmail servers, sending and receiving mail as normal. Once your connection is terminated, Gmail will automatically switch modes and work offline. As the video below shows, even offline you are able to perform all the normal functions of Gmail when it is online. Outbound messages will queue up in your Outbox until Gmail recognizes a valid internet connection, at which point in time, all inbound and outbound messages will re-synch.

And in a very Google-like way, they have even designed the solution to handle the increased ubiquity of a “somewhere in between” scenario (specifically calling out the potential value for someone who might be “‘borrowing their neighbor’s wireless” connection). What they call the “flaky connection mode” uses the local cache just like when you are offline, but still monitors for connectivity in the background, and then synchronizes when a connection signal is strong enough.

Of course, the Official Gmail Blog is quick to point out that this is still an experiment and they are eager for user feedback on functionality; it will also only be made available to English version of the app for the initial release, which began roll-out this week and is expected to take a few days.

But for anyone with several hundred emails sitting in their Gmail account, suddenly the prospect of a long flight is a welcome chance to play catch up — assuming, of course, that your laptop battery can out-live your email backlog.

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