Google has announced the end of development for its Google Gears browser plug-in. Supported is ended immediately for Firefox and Internet Explorer, which means the plug-in won’t be compatible with the new Firefox 4 and Internet Explorer 9 releases. Google has confirmed the feature will remain present in its own browser – Google Chrome – only up until version 12.
Google Gears is a technology that allows compatible websites and services – including Google’s own Google Docs and Google Mail – to be accessed offline before re-synchronising when an internet connection is re-established. It enables users to store offline and backup copies of email, documents stored in the cloud and more. It’s being retired to allow Google to concentrate on offering similar functionality using the new HTML5 standard.
Google Gears remains in force in Google Chrome – for now. To access your Google Mail offline, open Gmail, select Settings > Offline tab and select “Enable Offline Mail for this computer”. Its withdrawal from service means users will need to find alternative ways to maintain access to their email and other compatible services when not connected to the internet. Although Google plans to offer similar functionality through HTML5, it will be interesting to see if it’s able to develop a similar plug-in by the time Google Gears is officially retired from Chrome.
With this in mind, we thought it prudent to investigate alternative ways of being able to access both Gmail and Google Docs offline. The good news is that alternatives do exist, and are both free and relatively easy to implement.
Access Gmail offline
When it comes to accessing your web-based mail offline, most modern email clients support access to web-based mail, including Gmail – typically through IMAP, which means you’ll need to enable IMAP through Gmail itself (click Settings > Forwarding and POP/IMAP). One popular solution that works across Linux, Windows and Mac platforms is Thunderbird, which is also available as a portable application for Windows users. Other free clients worth checking out are Windows Live Mail (Windows), Sparrow Lite (Mac, Gmail only) and Claws Mail (Linux).
Back up and access Google Docs
It’s also possible to store files held in a Google Docs account (as well as other online storage providers). The simplest – and free – option is CyberDuck for both Windows and Mac. Once installed, log on to your Google Docs storage, click the Action button and choose Synchronize to set up a folder on your hard drive for backing up and syncing your Google Docs files to.