Ever since Gmail became my primary e-mail service in 2006, I've been waiting for the ability to search my voluminous message archive without a network link. My hopes jumped with the arrival in 2007 of the Google Gears plug-in for Firefox and Internet Explorer.
Gears lets you store Web services data on your local PC, among other functions. Gears and Gmail are such a perfect fit, I was sure that it would be just a few short months until I was rummaging through my Gmail archives while disconnected from the Internet.
Wrong again. That's what I get for trying to outthink Google. Unfortunately, there are still only a handful of Gears-enabled Web apps (Google Calendar isn't one of them).
The wait for networkless Gmail access ended last week, when Google Labs released Offline Gmail.
After you install Gears, you'll see an Offline option under the Labs tab in Gmail's Settings. Choose the Enable button, and when you restart your browser, you'll see an "Offline 0.1" link in the top-right corner of the main Gmail window. Click this link to begin the installation. (You'll also be prompted to download and install Gears, if you don't already have it on your PC.)
After the initial sync completes, click the Offline icon to the left of the Settings button to check your online status and view your options (choose Show Actions to see all available options).
Your initial synchronization may take quite a while, especially if you retain as many old messages as I do. The fact is, I was ready for the first sync to take all day, but just an hour and 15 minutes later, my store of Gmail messages--including attachments--was ensconced on my laptop's hard drive.
The first thing that struck me post-sync was how fast my mail searches had become. Having your mail on your hard drive makes fast work of archive searches that can take several seconds when interacting with Gmail's servers.
The Google Labs folks warn that Gmail's offline capability is still experimental, so you may encounter some features that don't work as expected. Still, after using Offline Gmail for a few days, I feel like a kid on Christmas morning. Thanks, Labs guys!