Google Intends Eventual Offline Access for Docs

While Google makes plans for the future, companies like Zoho are already using Google Gears to offer offline access.

SANTA CLARA, Calif.-Google will offer offline access to its Google Docs and other applications at some point in the future, but its focus is more on applications and data stored in, and served from, the cloud.

So said Jonathan Rochelle, a senior product manager at Google, speaking on a panel about the future of the "Web Office" at the WebGuild Web 2.0 conference here Jan. 29.

Offline access was something Google had to do and would do over time, Rochelle said, adding, "I do believe we'll get there, but we are currently in the gap between offline and online."

Working with Google Docs currently requires an Internet connection, but the company is working on Google Gears, a tool for adding offline capabilities to Web applications. Companies like Zoho, which offers a suite of Web-based office applications, are already using Google Gears to offer offline access.

While Zoho's primary focus is on taking office applications online and bringing the benefits of the Web to these productivity tools, "We realized that people need offline access, so we took Google Gears and made that happen," said Raju Vegesna, Zoho's evangelist.

This prompted Ismael Ghalimi, CEO of Intalio, a vendor of open-source BPM (business process management) software, to note how interesting it was that Zoho was using Google Docs and Google Gears to offer offline access, while Google, the developer of the software, was not.

"I just love this industry and this space, which allows this to happen," Ghalimi said.

Click here to read more about what Google Gears offers developers of Web applications.

But the fact that this is happening is no surprise to Google, Rochelle said, noting that having another company add value on top of its applications was exactly what was designed to happen.

"If our customers want to use a lot of different applications, we are happy with that. We are focusing on the data: having access everywhere as well as sharing access. Users are now bringing to work what they are doing at home in terms of collaboration and access," Rochelle said.

While there is still a gap between the various productivity suites available today, down the line the application and the data will be served out of the cloud and made available on the Web, he said.

"This is a better way to work and more productive. Users do not have to upgrade and pay for the next version of the application, while distribution is much easier for the vendors," Rochelle said.

But that does not mean that Microsoft Office, the most pervasive productivity suite, is broken or on its way out, as it still has hundreds of millions of users, he said, adding, "When the demand for Office as a cloud-based application made available on the Web reaches a tipping point, you can be sure Microsoft will be right there and ready."

While there is some interest in on-premises software applications, it is early days yet on this front and development would likely happen over the next few years, Vegesna said.

"But people want their data to be local, and so what we will more likely see being offered over the next year or so will be a cloud-based application but where the data resides within the company," Vegesna said.