Google's Gmail application has enabled offline access since January, connecting with Google Gears to let users access their e-mail messages and contacts through a Web browser without a Web connection.
However, users haven't been able to include attachments, such as PDFs, word processing or spreadsheet files in messages composed while offline.
That changed today, as Google has enabled attachments to work the same way whether users are online or offline. While offline, users can add attachments and send their messages, which will wait in the outbox. When a user connects to the Web, Gmail will send the queued message.
"If you have Offline Gmail enabled, you'll notice that all your mail now goes through the outbox, regardless of whether you're online or offline. This allows Gmail to capture all attachments, even if you suddenly get disconnected from network. If you're online, your mail will quickly be sent along to its destination."
However, when you're offline you still won't be able to include in-line images, warned Palay.
Still, this move should please knowledge workers trying to get work done on airplanes or other places where Internet access is not available, or even in the case of outages.
Lawyers, business managers and many others need to exchange PDFs and other documents with colleagues. Allowing them to add attachments while offline provides a level of efficiency previously absent in Gmail.
This should also be a boon to Google Apps. Gmail is the foundation of Google Apps, which Google is trying to prove is a viable alternative to enterprise-tested e-mail platforms such as Microsoft Outlook and IBM Lotus Notes.
For those who aren't using Gmail offline and wish to do so, click on the Gmail Labs tab, and select "Enable" next to Offline Gmail. Scroll to the bottom of the Labs page and click "Save changes."
After the browser reloads, users will see a new "Offline" link in the upper right-hand corner of the Gmail page, next to their user name. Users must click this link and download Gears if they haven't already installed it.
Feeling playful for the Thanksgiving holiday, Google also invited Gmail users to test their ability to send attachments while offline. Palay asked users to take pictures of themselves using Gmail in places where they're disconnected from the Web -- airplanes, submarines or other unusual locales -- and send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Google will post the most interesting ones. Guess they're running out of ways to fill their 20 percent time and need our help.