Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Google Makes Gmail Available Offline - Bits Blog - NYTimes.com

Lots of press coverage on this, most with the same basic themes…

Google is not the first of the major Web e-mail providers to provide offline access to its service. Yahoo did it last year, though its approach requires users to download a desktop e-mail software program called Zimbra, which Yahoo acquired in 2007. (Zimbra can also be used for offline access to Gmail and AOL Mail.) Microsoft’s Windows Live Mail offers limited offline access. And Zoho, a smaller provider of Web e-mail, has provided offline access since October.

Most Web e-mail services have long allowed users to download their messages to desktop clients like Microsoft Outlook via POP or IMAP technology.

But Gmail’s new offline feature will allow users to handle their e-mail within the familiar Gmail interface, with automatic synchronization of changes when an Internet connection is available.

But some reality check dimensions:

1.  It’s “experimental” – apparently doesn’t even rate the usual Google semi-permanent “beta” suffix yet

2.  People who want to use Gmail off-line already can, as noted in most of the articles on the “experimental” offline model, by using email clients such as Outlook

3.  The Gmail design team appears to go out of its way to make the user experience unfamiliar to people who have used other email systems in the past, e.g., with

  • Labels rather than folders
  • No option to hit the delete key and move to the next message (instead, Gmail users working with the Gmail browser client interface rather than an alternative such as Outlook hit delete, return to the inbox index, and then select another message)
  • The default of saving all messages, for index fodder – this is probably part of the reason for not supporting the otherwise-universal delete => delete and go to next message, i.e., Google wants to encourage people to collect messages rather than deleting them, so it can index the message collection for advertising purposes

Google Makes Gmail Available Offline - Bits Blog - NYTimes.com

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