Google's Chromebooks Remain Offline-Challenged

By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2011-11-28

Yesterday, Google announced that the 2012 edition of its annual two-day developer conference, Google I/O, is now set to span three days. At this year's Google I/O, the company assigned its two morning keynote presentations to Android and to ChromeOS, leading CNet's Stephen Shankland to jest (on Google+, naturally) that Google ought to set aside day three for a Death Match between the two platforms: two OSes would enter the cage, and only one would emerge.

Considering that Google I/O 2011 featured a giant, Android-controlled Labyrinth game, fabricating a suitable steel cage shouldn't pose a problem for Google's events staff. What's more, in recent weeks the company has demonstrated a new zeal for thinning its product lines in order better to focus its energies. It's tough to imagine Google ceding its footholds in either the smartphone or desktop Web browser markets by getting rid of Android or Chrome, but it wouldn't surprise me if Google deemed its Chrome and Linux-powered Chromebooks cut-worthy by the time that I/O 2012 occurs.

I've spent a few months testing out one of the Chromebooks that Google distributed to I/O attendees, and I've been fairly satisfied with the device. The Samsung 5 unit I've been testing is a fairly lightweight notebook computer with all-day battery life, a comfortably-sized keyboard and display, and an always up-to-date copy of Chrome (which I use as my primary Web browser on my desktop, as well). I've been less satisfied with the progress that Google has made with Web applications for the Chromebook, particularly regarding offline support.

When I started testing this Chromebook, Google's own Mail, Calendar and Docs applications lacked any offline support at all. By the end of August, Google offline-enabled its Mail and Calendar offering, but its Docs application is limited to read-only access of existing documents and spreadsheets. Particularly frustrating is the fact that Google's apps are just about exactly where they were, offline-wise, two years ago, when the company opted to ditch its offline apps solution, Google Gears, for a future HTML5-based approach.

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