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Adios, offline Gmail on Chrome--for now

Gmail was the last part of Google Apps that worked without a network connection. For Chrome users, it's gone until a replacement technology arrives.

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Google has shut down the ability to use Gmail with Chrome while not connected to the network, the last vestige of an older approach to offline Google Apps and Google Docs that the company is replacing.

To enable the offline feature, Google had been using a browser plug-in called Gears that could store data on a person's computer then sync with the Gmail server once a connection was re-established. Google phased out Gears, though, and yesterday was the last day offline Gmail worked with Chrome, which had Gears built in.

"As we move the Gmail Offline capability to a Chrome web app, we will deprecate the Google Gears-based Gmail Offline...As a result, Google Gears-based Gmail Offline will no longer work with the Chrome browser as of Tuesday May 24, 2011," Google said on a support page.

IE8 and Firefox 3.6 users still can use the offline feature for now, but Google isn't making any promises. "Please note that updates to these versions of Internet Explorer and Firefox browsers may affect Gears support, and therefore Gmail offline access," Google said.

Google already had shut down offline support, such as it was, for Google Docs' word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation apps. It never was complete with Gears, though; for example, people couldn't edit spreadsheets while offline.

Google employees have been using a new version of offline Google Docs that uses HTML standards. Google had hoped to release it early in 2011, but now the company plans to issue it this summer--in time to make its Chrome OS browser-based operating system more useful when people lack a network connection.

In the meantime, some people may be left in the lurch.

"We realize that there will be a temporary gap in Gmail offline access via Chrome, and we are working hard to deliver offline capabilities through a new Gmail Offline Chrome web app as quickly as possible," Google said.