Google gets ready for offline email

Using the same technology that lets Android users work with their Google email accounts offline, the Mountain View company has introduced an email app that liberates millions of Gmail users from unreliable connections.

By adding the Google Gears plug-in to their browsers, Gmail users can now read, search, star, label, and respond to emails offline. Next time they connect to the web, Gears will automatically convey the messages.

The service is still in an experimental stage — you can open and read attachments, for example, but you cannot send them — but Google positioned Gears as a solution to what Google calls "flaky connection mode"; that is, when an internet connection is unreliable or weak In this case, Gears utilizes the local cache as if it were disconnected, but still synchronizes your mail with the server in the background.

"Our goal is to provide nearly the same browser-based Gmail experience whether you're using the data cached on your computer or talking directly to the server," writes Andy Palay on the Gmail blog.

Gmail already syncs with mobile phones, like its Android platform, and other units that support Gears — a key part of the company's Web app strategy, writes TechCrunch. It launched a Gears version of Google Docs in March '08, and ultimately plans to offer enterprise customers an offline version of Calendar.

Yahoo continues to lead the pack in terms of sheer number of webmail users, but Google has kept its eyes open for opportunities within the niche. In November, for example, it gave Gmail users voice and video chat capabilities.

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