Web apps can be great for many things and Google is a big supporter of anything that lives in the cloud. But they have one major disadvantage, if there's no Internet connection there's no app. Broadband is becoming ubiquitous in some countries and wireless connections are increasingly available and reliable, but we're still far from the point where this is no longer a concern.
In the mean time, Google along with other web companies are working on making web apps usable without the need for an Internet connection with much of the focus being placed on some HTML 5 features which would make this possible. Those are still only half-backed and there may still be a while until most people and developers can take advantage of them.
This hasn't stopped Google though and the company has launched an offline version of its flagship product Gmail almost a year ago. The feature has been in testing since and Google is now confident that it reached a point where it can be rolled out to everyone.
“Now, we're happy to announce that Offline Gmail is graduating from Labs and becoming a regular part of Gmail. If you're already using it, then you're all set. While you'll no longer see it on the Labs tab, you can tweak your settings and turn it on and off from the Offline tab under Settings,” Aaron Whyte, software engineer at Google, wrote.
If you haven't used the offline features before, you can find the new Offline section in the Settings page. Enabling it is easy enough; however, you need to have Google Gears installed in order to use it. If you use Google Chrome, you're all set as Gears is built into the browser; otherwise, you have to install it before you can enjoy the offline features.
Offline Gmail is as close to the proper Gmail experience as possible and Google has been working on getting more features to work without an Internet connection, most recently adding support for sending attachments. Users can compose and send emails or read the ones they have received and all the changes get synced as soon as they go online.
Google Gears is available for download here.