Offline GMail

Update: Almost 2 years after I blogged about this – Google came up with an offline version. Check it out here

On the Memorial day I went to Chicago to attend a conference on Microfinance( I want to write about this, sometime soon) and also to see my in-laws who live there. I happen to take my laptop along with me thinking that I would spend some time to read my e-books or at least work on some ideas I have been playing with. The Southwest flight was packed and I got sit between two hefty people. That was not at a problem as I had my own entertainment for the next 4 hours. But when I saw my neighbors using their laptops, I was intrigued to see that they are using their spare time to reply all the email they have got and probably catching up with the missed emails.

As of now in my GMail I have 61 unread emails (only Inbox) there are at least couple of hundred in unread email in my other folders. I could have used those 4 hours to read my unread email and probably reply to couple of my friends. But I couldn’t do that because I use GMail. Well, I know I can get my Gmail into my outlook/Thunderbird and read it offline and be happy with it. But I don’t use any other applications as much as I use my browser. With Web 2.0, the browser is the platform. All the earlier application which don’t have any web interface are turning into one because people like to use only browsers and most of them will.

So, I was toying with an idea of how cool it would be if we can have a browser extension which would make GMail access available offline. It wouldn’t be very tough to do something like that. I have known people using Apache Derby for a lightweight database written in Java, which could be used on the client side. All you need to do is to have a local server (Google Desktop already does this) which would check for internet connection and fetch the top 100 (may be inbox only?) and put them under local Derby database. When offline, you still can access the emails and there would be a wrapper around this which would basically use GMail API to send all the offline written emails.

This would solve my problem of being able to see my emails offline and responding to them. Also if you look at the latest technologies – the focus is getting more and more towards “highly intelligent local systems” which can operate both with a internet connection or not. It makes life so easy. And Adobe has taken a step towards that and calls it – Apollo. But you know how Adobe can lock you in their technology platform.

But what was such a sweet surprise was – only couple of days back – Google released something called – Google Gears. I was so surprised to see something coming out exactly when I was thinking about it. Now with Google Gears, what Google has made possible is – it created a framework for creating offline applications just using Javascript. What an amazing idea. It would be matter of days, before there would be applications popping out for GMail, Maps, Google Docs – imagination is your limitation. I know it may not sound as cool as I am describing it here, but believe me when I say as a developer – I don’t have to learn any new Adobe’s proprietary language to do this. I can use my good old Javascript skills to do just this. That’s empowering and liberating for a application developer.

I am waiting for my offline Gmail access now!

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