Google (news, site) has been on-and-off with offline support in Google Docs. While the cloud service used to have limited offline functionality with Google Gears, it seems Google is adamant at enabling full offline capabilities through HTML 5 and various other technologies, which will enhance the value of its recently released Chromebooks.
At present, users can already gain offline access to documents, although the interface is not exactly what you would expect of a cloud service. Google's own Cloud Connect syncs documents, presentations and spreadsheets with Microsoft Office applications. Microsoft is also about to launch Office 365, which will provide similar functionality. But what about folks who don't have a desktop-based office or productivity suite, such as Chrome OS or other cloud-based operating systems?
Google Docs offline mode gets previewed
The Docs Team Confirms It
Google is reportedly testing -- again -- offline support for its cloud-based Docs service. Screenshots leaked over the past few days suggest that offline support is already in the works. Several "offline mode" features have been appearing, and observers note that this might be the promised holy grail of cloud-based document management.
At a Reddit Q&A discussion thread, Google Docs product manager Jeff Harris confirms that "offline [will] start to roll out later this summer."
We used to have offline with Google Gears, but it became pretty clear that plugins weren't the right approach. We've been reimplementing offline using HTML 5 standards like AppCache, File API and IndexDB.
We're some of the first web apps that are really putting those standards to the test, so it's taken a while to iron out the kinks."
Harris explained the general idea of Docs offering offline support, saying it's basically a combination of caching and syncing.
The long-term direction is, if you access a Doc URL while offline, it should open the local copy of the doc and let you edit. When you go online, all your edits get synced in the background. You should also be able to see a list of your docs while offline.
We'll need to work through all the tricky problems with how to merge conflicting edits. It's fun stuff."
Chromebooks (Plus Chromebook Users) Will Work Offline
This sounds promising, especially with Google pushing Chrome OS, along with Samsung and Acer, which sell the official Chromebooks -- Acer Cromia and Samsung Series 5. While these notebooks are primarily cloud-based computers, with the browser being the main interface, Google has promised offline functionality in one form or another. Offline support in Google Docs would be an important part of this functionality, especially if you want to be productive with working on documents without being connected.
Still, it's not just the Chromebook users who will benefit. Everyone who uses Docs will also enjoy this functionality. If you're fond of working solely on your browser because of the small footprint and light resource requirements, then you might ditch your desktop-based office suite altogether.
No word yet when exactly Google will include offline functionality, although the Docs Team says it will be sometime later this summer.