Google to phase in offline access options for Docs

 One of the most innovative additions that Google may be making to its applications suite would, in a bygone era, be one of the most basic features: the ability to save locally.

One of the factors that makes Web applications convenient is the fact that you’re almost always using the most currently tested version of the software. With Google Apps, the tradeoff has typically been that the user has to be online, which makes operation on a laptop while in the air somewhat inconvenient.

Over the next few weeks, we learned today, select Google Docs users who have downloaded Google Gears will be given access to updated code that enables the application to run offline. In this mode, documents can be saved locally within a temporary cache, which is then transferred to “the cloud” — Google’s servers — when the browser next connects to the Web.

While offline, a Google video today shows, the browser is still able to contact the locally stored, offline copy of the application via the URL docs.google.com. Normally, the application is continually reporting updates the user makes to an active document to Google in the background; but in the version that’s being phased in, while the browser is offline, the application will file updates locally.

“It’s all pretty seamless: I don’t have to remember to save my documents locally before packing my laptop for a trip,” writes Google software engineer Philip Tucker today. “I don’t have to remember to save my changes as soon as I get back online. And I don’t have to switch applications based on network connectivity. With the extra peace of mind, I can more fully rely on this tool for my important documents.”

Work on getting developers to use Google Gears to build offline-capable applications began last spring, but the company only began discussing integrating the feature into its own applications last December.

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