Chrome browser users will be able to access Gmail when they’re not connected to the Internet starting Wednesday and will gain similar offline capabilities for Docs and Calendar in the coming week, the company announced on Wednesday.
Users will need to install individual offline-access applications from the Chrome Web Store to add these capabilities to their browser. The Gmail application is called Gmail Offline and is based on the Gmail application for tablets, which works both with and without Internet access. Docs and Calendar will each have its own offline-access application on the Chrome Web Store.
The offline capabilities will become available both for individuals who use Gmail, Docs and Calendar, as well as for organizations who use them as part of the Google Apps collaboration and communication suite in workplaces and educational institutions.
Once installed, these offline applications will create an icon in the Chrome browser interface for launching them when users aren’t online. The Gmail application will have its own user interface separate from the Gmail web interface, while the Docs and Calendar applications will trigger their web application’s interface and work in the background.
In all three cases, users will get access to a subset of the web applications’ features. For example, in Docs it will be possible to view documents and spreadsheets, but not yet edit those documents. In Calendar, users will be able to view events and RSVP to appointments.
Previously, Google provided offline access to these applications via its Gears browser plug-in, but the company stopped developing it last year. It has been possible to use Gmail and Calendar offline through Gears in Internet Explorer 8 and Firefox 3.6, but not Docs.
Google’s focus is on HTML5 for providing offline access for its web applications. The company plans to provide offline support to more of its applications beyond Gmail, Docs and Calendar, as well as make offline capabilities available in other browsers.
“While Google tells us that the number of commercial Gmail users impacted by the removal of offline capabilities for Chrome was very small, we certainly know of large Gmail customers that were dismayed by the move,” said Gartner analyst Matt Cain via e-mail.
“Restoration of offline capabilities for Chrome will certainly be welcomed by businesses relying on Gmail. Restoration of offline capabilities for all browsers would be even more welcome,” he added.
Updated at 12:20 p.m. PT with analyst comment.