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Access your Gmail offline!

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If you have been banking on Gmail for your communication needs, there have always been times when you have desperately wanted to access your account to dig out that important mail but have found yourself haggling with an unreliable or unavailable connection. Not any more.

If the Google Gears version of Gmail rolls out smooth, you can open your web browser, go to the mailbox, and get to your mail even when you are offline. In a nutshell, your Gmail is going offline.

The logic is simple but it could be a great value ad. If you install the Google Gears plug-in to your browser from the Gmail Lab, Gmail detects when you are offline. The new version caches your e-mail so that you can read it, respond to it, search it, star it, or label it. When you are connected to the Internet again, it sends all the messages that you have prepared while being offline. You can even open attachments.

As Gmail product manager Todd Jackson puts it, "it works exactly the way Gmail already works on mobile phones such as the Android and those that support Gears. The underlying sync engine is exactly the same for Android and offline Gmail."

Here's how it works. Once the feature is turned on, Gmail uses Gears to download a local cache of your mail. As long as you're connected to the network, that cache is synchronized with Gmail's servers.

When the connection is lost, Gmail automatically switches to offline mode, and uses the data stored on your computer's hard drive instead of the information sent across the network.

Any messages you send while offline will be placed in your outbox and automatically sent the next time Gmail detects a connection. And if you're on an unreliable or slow connection, you can choose to use "flaky connection mode," which is somewhere in between: it uses the local cache as if you were disconnected, but still synchronizes your mail with the server in the background.

According to web reports, Google is making offline Gmail available to everyone who uses Gmail in US or UK English over the next couple of days. If you don't see it under the Labs tab yet, it should be there soon.

The only bad news is some features that require an Internet connection, such as spell check, won't work offline. And while you can open attachments, you won't be able to add attachments at launch. But Google promises to make them available soon!

The system is in beta and accessible through Gmail Labs. But it won't be immediately available to everyone - Google is parsing out access as it experiments with the new feature.

If Gmail lives up to the user expectations, then this would be a big step forward in bringing web mail offline given that presently there are options of offline access to your mailbox, but they all come with strings. You can access your Gmail account through a client like Mozilla Thunderbird. But that doesn't give you all the Gmail functionality like labels.

Yahoo Mail has offered offline access since last summer using Zimbra Desktop. But that also involves using a client on your desktop. For offline access to Windows Live Hotmail, Microsoft suggests using their Mail client software.

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