Saturday, February 14, 2009

Gmail adds offline feature

(My latest Internet column for my old newspaper, The Lawton Constitution).


I've long been a fan of Webmail services such as Gmail and Yahoo Mail.
I change Internet providers all the time, but I've been able to keep the same e-mail addresses for years. Someone who writes to me using an e-mail address that's five years old will likely get me.
There's one disadvantage to using Webmail. You can't use it when you are disconnected from the Internet. You can use an e-mail program such as Outlook Express with Gmail and other Webmail services, but you can't use the service itself.
Until now. Gmail has just launched a new service, allowing its users to work with their Gmail even when disconnected from the Internet. It seems very promising, although it still has a few bugs.
The offline version of Gmail works by loading a Google software program called Google Gears, which is an add-on for the browser you use to look at Internet sites.
Google Gears can be used with both Internet Explorer and Firefox. It allows users to save information for Google applications so that they can still use them when you aren't connected to the Internet.
Google Gears was deployed first for Google Reader, Google's online tool for reading blogs. It then made Google Docs available offline. (Google Docs at is an online office suite that allows users to create or read text documents, spread sheets or slide shows from any computer connected to the Internet.)
Using Google Gears for Gmail only started a few days ago.
To try offline Gmail, click on "Settings" when you are logged into your account, then click "Labs," where Gmail keeps new, experimental features. Click "enable" for Offline, then click "Offline" while you are in your Inbox.
Google will walk you through what you need to do. It will put a Gmail icon on your desktop, which you'll click to log in to your e-mail when you are not connected to the Internet.
You can read your messages offline, compose new messages and do anything else you would normally do while connected to the Internet. Then, when you connect again, what you did offline will be synchronized with your online Google account.
It took Google awhile to figure out how to use Google Gears with Gmail, despite the obvious demand for offline e-mail, and there are still a few bugs with the service. When I tried it the first time, the offline feature someone got switched off, and I had to enable it for my account again. I've also encountered delays trying to synchronize my account, even when I appear to have a good Internet connection.
I generally have the Internet connected all the time at work and at home, but the offline service would be useful when I know I can't be connected for awhile — when I'm on a plane, for example. It would also be a way to "get by" for people who are on the road or can't afford an Internet service. You could work on your mail offline, then synchronize when you go to the library or a coffee shop.
It does work, but if you want a service that works flawlessly, it might be a good idea to wait a few months for Google to get the bugs squeezed out.
File storage. Speaking of Gmail, here's a simple idea for file storage. E-mail documents you want to store online to your Gmail account, and you have an archive that's searchable. You also have an online storage site that's unlikely to disappear soon. (XDrive, a free online storage stie that was run by AOL, shut down last month.)
I got the idea from an author named Susan Wise Bauer who is writing a history of the world in several volumes. She mentioned in her blog that she backed up the first volume by e-mailing copies of the chapters to her Gmail account.
Watching the lawmakers. The Oklahoma Legislature has just begun its new session. You can track the bills you are interested in by going to ok.gov/3167/3512/3180/3382/. (Or go to ok.gov and follow the bill tracking link.)

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1 comment:

sheela said...

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