Chances are you are one of the 100 million users of Gmail. Chances are you store stuff on there because you can get to it no matter what machine you are accessing the web with. Novel chapters, presentation notes, report data, etc.

But you’re on a plane, or in a car, or doing the great search for the American Dream via Greyhound and you don’t have web access. Or the bandwidth you can access is unreliable. Spotty. Intermittent. Oh the humanity!

Well, Gmail Labs using Google Gears, has launched an experimental feature -- Offline Gmail. Once you install and activate Gears in your browser you can access the offline Gmail feature. Gmail will use Gears to download a local cache of your mail onto your machine.

How Gmail Uses Gears to Go Offline

If you're connected to the network, that mail cache is synchronized with the Gmail servers. If you are offline or experiencing hinky connectivity, Gmail automatically switches to offline mode. But you can still access the mail data stored on your computer's hard drive instead of the information sent across the network. You can read messages, star and label them and do all of the things you're used to doing while reading your webmail online.

If you send a message while offline, they queue in your outbox and spirit away automatically as soon as your machine finds some bandwidth. If your connection is simply horrendous, there is a  "flaky connection mode." This uses a combination of the local cache and regular attempts to use available bandwidth to synchronize your mail, send mail and receive mail with the Gmail server -- and all of this transpires in the background.

The stated goal of offline Gmail is to provide an approximation of the same browser-based Gmail experience whether you're using the data cached on your computer or talking directly to the server.

Following the Path of Zoho Mail

What's particularly interesting about this news is that Zoho implemented this feature in their email service in October of last year. Does it not seem odd that Google creates a solution such as Gears and then lags behind others in implementing it into their own online services?

In fact, Zoho implemented Gears in some of their productivity tools (Zoho Writer, Zoho Mobile) before Google implemented it into Google Apps. And Zoho isn't the only one taking advantage of Gears.

Apparently, Gears is much more than a solution that provides online apps offline capability. MySpace initially implemented Gears just to create their messaging framework.

All this to show how a giant like Google does continue to innovate in ways that should demonstrate that their services are viable solutions for the enterprise. With Microsoft planning to bring their Office suite online, Google needs to find ways that make their services the better option. They may just need to do it faster.

Gears is available for certain versions of Windows, Windows Mobile, Mac (Firefox, Safari), Linux and Android. Once you have installed and activated Gears in your browser, open Gmail, choose ‘Settings’ choose ‘Labs’ select ‘enable’, save changes, and your ready to test this experimental feature from Gmail Labs and the open source Gears project.