28 January 2008

Google Docs Offline Access

In a post Philipp made last week about writing a book in Google Docs, he said:

Working with Google Docs requires an internet connection. In my case, I need this internet connection anyway [...] your mileage may vary (and who knows, Google may also release Gears-support for Google Docs in the future).

After playing around with one of Google’s not-so-private experimental sites, I can confirm that offline access is currently being tested. When I visited the site recently, I saw this message:

Of course, I clicked the link and this popped up:

Google Gears is a browser extension for Firefox 1.5+ and Internet Explorer 6.0+ that enables web applications to provide offline functionality through JavaScript APIs. (It also has its own blog.) Other companies – like Remember The Milk and Zoho – are already making use of Google Gears, but the only official Google integration is for Google Reader (although evidence that offline functionality is coming to Google Calendar has also been spotted).

After enabling offline access and confirming the security warning for Google Gears, my documents started to synchronize, just the same as feed items synchronize in Google Reader. (In case you encounter any error messages, Google allows you to reset and disable offline access through the offline access settings dialog box.)

Disappointingly, I wasn’t able to actually view or edit any of my documents after going offline; I could only view them in the document list and received a Firefox “Offline mode” message when I tried. However, I was able to perform simple operations like renaming and starring them while being offline, which were successfully synchronized once I reconnected.

As you can see from the screenshot above, it looks like offline access might be initially introduced just for documents, rather than spreadsheets and presentations which are grayed out like other options in the menu, such as creating a new document, uploading and sharing.

From what I’ve seen, I think it’s clear that offline access is obviously still in its early stages, but it’s reassuring to see that Google is actively improving its online office applications to make them also work offline like the desktop applications we’re all used to.

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