Zoho Mail: Mobile, offline, and out of beta

Zoho's browser-based Mail application is now publicly accessible, even when offline or using Apple's iPhone.

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Zoho Mail, out of private beta testing, works on the Apple iPhone.
Zoho Mail, out of private beta testing, works on the Apple iPhone. Zoho

Zoho made some significant changes to a core part of its cloud-based application suite Friday: its online mail application now works offline and with Apple's iPhone, and the beta test is now publicly available.

The offline and mobile features are major areas of development for Web-based applications, and cloud computing advocates including Zoho, Yahoo, and Google are racing to build in those features. Offline access helps ameliorate Web-based applications' limitations when no network is available, and mobile access helps fulfill one of the big promised advantages of Web applications: access your documents any time you do have network access.

Offline access, which in Zoho's case is enabled with Google's Gears technology, lets people read and write mail in the browser even when not connected to the network. "Zoho Mail automatically detects your connectivity and switches to online/offline modes seamlessly. While offline, you can respond to your emails as you would normally. When you go back online these emails will be sent out from your outbox," the company said Friday in an announcement.

Easier said than done, perhaps: I just got an indefinite "Loading..." message in both Google Chrome and in Gears-enabled Firefox when trying to access my mail after I shut off my network.

(Update 10:30 a.m. PDT: I thought I'd gone through the offline settings properly, but evidently I hadn't. It does in fact work, mostly, caching messages on my PC and automatically adapting according to whether there's a network. I could write new mails, though Zoho Mail only saves them to the draft folder instead of queuing them up to be sent. And when I tried to reply to an e-mail, I got the error message, "Sorry, this feature is not supported while you are offline!")

And mobile support, while difficult given the primitive state of most mobile devices' Web browsers, can also help when people don't have access to a PC or a Wi-Fi network. "We do plan to support other mobile devices soon," Zoho said. The application worked fine on my iPhone.

Zoho Mail can be accessed with other e-mail clients using the POP (Post Office Protocol) today; the more powerful IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) support is "coming soon."

It has no storage limits or ads. Users can opt to organize mail with either labels, a la Gmail, or Folders, a la Hotmail and Yahoo Mail. And back-and-forth exchanges can be viewed either with Outlook's conventional style or Gmail's conversation view. Also adopted are some Outlook keyboard shortcuts, such as Control-Enter to send a message. The application worked for me, though I missed Yahoo Mail's drag-and-drop abilities and Gmail's stand-out filtering options.

People who sign up for the e-mail get a "username@zoho.com" e-mail address. And through the AdventNet subsidiary's business offering, customers can use Zoho Mail with their own domain.

Zoho's Web-based e-mail client uses Google's Gears to enable offline access to messages. (Click to enlarge.)
Zoho's Web-based e-mail client uses Google's Gears to enable offline access to messages. (Click to enlarge.) CNET News