Google Docs Offline: It works, sort of

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

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
2 min read

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.