Google has disabled the key ‘offline mail’ feature in Gmail without warning, without clear notice and only for its own Chrome browser users! Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.
For some time, Gmail has had a nifty ‘offline’ feature that lets you operate Gmail in your browser but when there’s no internet connection.
This is a really useful and unique Gmail feature. It’s not just good for travellers with laptops either.
Many people use offline mail just for the speed benefit (accessing messages is faster when already stored on your computer vs grabbing from a server). Offline mail also means you don’t lose work if your internet connection suddenly fails because offline mail will reconnect after any lapse in the net link.
Gmail’s offline mail uses ‘Google Gears’ a technology to permit offline web applications to run, not just Gmail. However Gears is being superseded by similar technologies in the HTML v5 specification. Google has decided to switch to that public standard version of offline use.
That’s a good move, better for all of us that Chrome and Gmail work to open standards like HTML 5. But Google’s chosen method of transition is astonishingly poor.
With a recent update to Google’s own Chrome browser for Windows, Gmail offline was disabled. Customers only notice this when they realize the offline feature isn’t working and they go to the settings page to restore it. The message says that the browser doesn’t support the offline feature.
Gmail - offline not available in Chrome for Windows
Surely that can’t be right? After all we’re talking about Google’s own Chrome browser here. The one browser that can be relied upon to support Gmail features, right?
From 24 May 2011, Chrome doesn’t support the Gmail offline mail feature.
As Google promotes Chrome, they also remove a key feature from it. A feature which complements their usually excellent Gmail service.
Not only has Google removed the feature, they’ve gone to Microsoft-like lengths to obscure the fact. Rather than put the details clearly where people can see it, they hide the embarrassing facts away. This is an old Microsoft trick which only frustrates and wastes the time of customers as they struggle to find a fix.
The ‘Learn More’ link mentioned above takes you to a Gmail help page ‘Known offline issues’ which has no mention of the Chrome problem. Similarly the list of Gmail supported browsers doesn’t disclose that Chrome now isn’t fully compatible. The Gmail ‘Known Issues’ page is similarly clueless.
After some digging around we found this page which explains the self-inflicted Google mess. This page should be directly available from Gmail or the Known offline issues page, but isn’t.
All this is horribly reminiscent of Microsoft. When Redmond has some embarrassing problem, the last place you’ll find assistance is in the obvious and publically available pages. Saving Microsoft corporate face is more important than helping customers. A shame to see Google copying this practice.
The workaround is simple – don’t use Chrome. Both Internet Explorer and Firefox still support offline Gmail. In fact IE and FF user continue to have offline Gmail blissfully unaware that Chrome users are being shafted.
Using IE or Firefox is Google’s own recommended fix! I wonder if the team spending millions on advertising Chrome around the world are aware that another part of the company is actively telling people to use other browsers?
Give it back!
The Gmail offline mail feature will return to Gmail – sometime.
Google is saying that the necessary HTML 5 support will be available in ‘Summer 2011’. (this is another Microsoft trick – give a vague timeline that could be interpreted many different ways. ‘Summer 2011’ could mean as late as December 2011 given southern hemisphere seasons.)
An alternative is to use the IMAP option in Outlook to synchronize Gmail online storage with Outlook on your computer. See our previous coverage of IMAP and Gmail at Office-Watch.com
Activating IMAP in Gmail
Setting up IMAP in Outlook
Using IMAP with Outlook
IMAP in Outlook - extra notes
Article posted: Wednesday, 01 June 2011
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