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Google Docs Offline: It works, sort of

Google Docs will no longer erase your work when your connection dies.

I finally got access to Google Docs offline, the launch of which I covered yesterday. I understand why Google is pitching it as a safety net for a flaky online connection, as opposed to an honest-to-goodness offline application. As we noted yesterday, you cannot yet create a new document when offline. And something we weren't told: when working offline, you can't insert a picture into a file nor review its revision history.

Furthermore, offline edit reconciliation isn't quite what I was told it would be. I fired up a shared Docs file, pulled the Ethernet plug on my machine, and started to make changes. Meanwhile, I asked Josh, still online, to edit the same block of text I was working on. When I plugged my machine back into the Net, Josh's changes overwrote mine with no warning. The revision history kept a record of all edits, but unlike the real-time collaborative editing that occurs when all parties are online, Josh did not have a chance to see the changes I was making; his text just took precedence.

You cannot control the online/offline state of Google Docs, as you can in Google's RSS reader. That's not a major loss, since there's no advantage to working offline. The offline site is no faster than the online site, for example.

Don't get me wrong: offline access to Google Docs is a necessary addition to the app, and I am sure it will improve over time. Google's Ken Norton was clear that document creation is coming to the offline version of Docs. But at the moment it's really just a nice insurance policy if you work on a wonky connection, or if you want to edit--but not create--documents when you're in an offline environment like an airplane.

Cues that Google is working offline: one, the connection icon in the upper-right is grey, not green; and two, it tells you.