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Offline Gmail earns its wings, graduates from Google Labs

Google has announced that "Offline Gmail", an experimental feature that lets users access their web-based Gmail accounts while not connected to the internet has finally graduated from being a Google Labs project and is being rolled out to all users.

The feature first debuted almost a year ago as a solution for users who wanted access to their e-mail through the Gmail web interface even at times when they had no internet connectivity, effectively allowing them to read messages, search, and even compose new messages to later send when connected to the internet. Offline Gmail works by utilizing Google Gears, a small utility that allows web pages to store information locally on your computer. Rumours surfaced late last month that Google would be dropping gears for HTML5. As the full HTML5 specifications will not be ready until 2011 or later we expect Google to continue using Gears for offline Gmail until HTML5 is ready.

When you enable offline support in Gmail, your e-mail messages are downloaded to a cache on your computer, and synchronized with the Gmail server as long as you are connected to the internet. When you lose your connection, Gmail automatically switches to offline mode, and uses the data stored on your computer's hard drive instead of using information sent across the internet. Any messages that you send offline will be placed in your outbox and automatically sent the next time that Gmail detects that your computer is connected to the internet.

To enable offline support for your Gmail account you must first install Google Gears, which is available for Internet Explorer 6.0 or higher, Mozilla Firefox 1.5 or higher, and various other platforms and is included in Google Chrome. Once Gears has been installed, turn offline support on in your Gmail account settings:

  1. Log in to your Gmail account.
  2. Click on Settings.
  3. Click on the Offline tab.
  4. Select "Enable Offline Mail for this computer".
  5. Click on the "Save Settings" button.
  6. Follow the on-screen instructions to begin synchronizing your account.

Gmail also supports accessing your messages offline via POP3 and IMAP through traditional desktop mail clients such as Microsoft Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird.

It would seem that the web giant has been quite busy over the past few weeks rolling out various new features and ideas, including a simplified home page design, Google Public DNS, real time search, and "goggles" visual search just to name a few.

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