Late yesterday, Google announced the release of Offline GMail. Obviously, this is a Gears-enabled GMail which is being made available through the GMail Labs feature. It is interesting that GMail has been a laggard in offline access, but I have a feeling it was due to wanting to test the offline features extensively with less used applications. Google Reader and Google Docs have had offline access for some time. ReadWriteWeb says it best:
It’s been frustrating for Gmail users, many of whom are early adopters, that Gmail has been so behind the times with this feature. Particularly when Google has Gears and has already used it to offline-enable Google Docs and Google Reader.
Given that Google Docs has been offline already, why do I say that Google is only now beginning their plan? There are a few reasons for my line of thinking. First, email is probably the most used application by most internet users, besides the browser of course. Most people would also like to just get one provider for their applications because it is easier for them to manage. This is why Microsoft Office has such a dominant position on the desktop. They have Outlook as their email client, as well as Word and Excel for most people’s daily tasks. Without desktop email, Google could not really compete on the desktop. Now, with Google Docs already offline-capable, there is little missing. Remember, GMail already has a tasks application in the Labs. The only other “major” thing would be a calendar. ReadWriteWeb provides a tease there as well:
But wait, there’s more. Google is also working on an offline Google Calendar. There is no date for this release, but it too will be launched with Google Apps first.
So, if Google has offline email, calendar, tasks, word processing and spreadsheet applications, what else do they really need? Do you really need the massive installations provided by Microsoft Office? Or did the browser finally become the operating system?