Offline Gmail brings Apps closer to the enterprise

Google finally added an offline mode to Gmail, shoring up a key hole in the Apps product line. Google Docs has had offline mode, via Gears, for a while now, and loyal Gmail users have been chomping at the bit for similar offline access. What's interesting about the new Gmail mode is its announcement on the heels of all the recent GDrive speculation. Looks like Gears is finally maturing to the point where it's truly solved the Web/desktop synchronization problem.

Announced in the official Gmail Blog, Gmail's offline mode will initially be available only in the English version via Gmail Labs. And it does have its downsides. For example, it doesn't let users add attachments to outgoing mail while in offline mode, and any tools that require an online connection, like spellcheck, won't work. But those are small compared with the upside, especially the innovative "flaky" mode, which ZDNet's Phil Wainewright says works especially well when traveling by commuter rail, etc. As Google explains:

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 [online and offline]: it uses the local cache as if you were disconnected, but still synchronizes your mail with the server in the background.

That's pretty sweet. Handling synchronization in the background makes the tool really enterprise-ready--and it's a real plus that the new mode doesn't force users into choosing an all-or-nothing connectivity option. Google also says it plans to add Gears-based offline access to Calendar in the next few weeks, which will make Apps truly an online/offline ware. And once users get the GDrive capability, enterprises will be able to use the entire Apps suite, whenever and wherever they are, even when no network is available.

If it all works as advertised, it makes you wonder. Why is everyone still using--and paying for--Office anyway?

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