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Google’s new experiment: Gmail offline

Posted on: February 24, 2009


Posted under E-mail, Google, Internet

By Anna Valmero

Search engine giant Google has rolled another experiment through its web-based email service Gmail. It’s called “Gmail offline.”

While the announcement comes after Zimbra’s own offline email offering, Gmail users were excited (myself included) with the launch of this offline feature. It means I could read my messages even if I don’t have an Internet connection.

To set up Gmail offline on your PC, follow these steps:

1. Open Gmail account online. Set Language to English.
2. On the upper right hand corner of the account page, click Settings, then click Labs Tab.
3. Tick Enable next to Offline Gmail.
4. Click Save Changes.
5. After reloading the browser, “Offline0.1″ link appears next to the user name ( Click the new link to start the setup of Gmail offline. (Setup time depends on the number and size of your emails.)

(Reminder: Before starting the setup, make sure to use a browser supported by Gmail Labs and Gears–IE 7, Firefox 2.0 up, Safari 3.0 up or Google Chrome–and have Google Gears, free software, installed in your PC).

As the name suggests, Gmail offline allows users to access messages on Gmail even without connecting to the Internet.

The feature was tested for over a year at Google Labs division before it was launched and is still in the experimental stage, according to Gmail engineer Andy Palay at the Google blog site.

So how does it work?

When online, Gmail uses Google Gears technology to download a local cache of your mail. An algorithm determines the “latest and most important” messages for download and syncs a maximum of 10,000 messages in your local disk.

The time needed for synchronizing messages depends on the number and size of the attachments to be downloaded.

Using wireless connection, it took me two hours to sync while I was continuously reading and replying to messages.

A friendly note: Do not to enable this feature when using public computers to protect your account. Gmail offline only requires you to enter your log in name.

So after almost a week of trial, here’s my verdict:

The downside: Adding attachments in reply messages while in Offline or Flaky mode is currently not supported.

But Google Labs is now working on it (according to the message prompt that appears when you click “Attach File”).

The Calendar and Contacts manager features are also inaccessible. And since not all messages will be synced to your hard disk, email search results are limited to those that are downloaded in your local cache. The feature is only available in English as of this writing.

The upside: Since the messages are stored in your hard disk, it is faster to search, read and label messages. You can reply to messages, which are then stored in the Outbox folder. Reply messages will be sent once you connect to Gmail. Attachments such as images, PDF files and text documents can be viewed and downloaded or saved to your PC.

Setting up Gmail offline for multiple computers is also possible. So you can have this on both your home or mobile PC (separate syncing is required). Users can opt to use the “Flaky connection mode” if you have a really poor Internet connection.

So have you tried Gmail offline? What’s your take?


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