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Google extends Gmail to offline users

Google last week launched an updated version of its hosted Gmail e-mail service that lets users access their accounts without an Internet connection.

Joyce Sohn, a spokeswoman for Mountain View, Calif.-based Google, noted in a company blog post that the updated service would allow users to read, write and archive e-mail messages while flying in an airplane.

However, Sohn added, “we're still working out kinks, which means you might see some issues that aren't completely ironed out.”

The new Gmail version uses the company's Google Gears browser extension to provide offline access. Google Gears has also been used to offline-enable Google Docs and Google Reader.

The company said that it plans to add offline access to its Google Calendar service as well.

“This is an important development in the evolution of Gmail,” said Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group Inc. in Beaverton, Ore. “With offline capabilities, Gmail now has at least arguable parity with [Microsoft's] Outlook, which opens up an entirely new market to [Google].

“The addition of offline calendar functionality will move them into an even better competitive position,” he added.

Olds noted that Gmail has been the system of choice for the casual e-mail user, and it has more recently become popular among people looking to create extra e-mail accounts.

The offline access could broadly expand expand G-mail's potential market, Olds said. “These offline features will make Gmail a viable option for small-business people who use Exchange, and it may eat into Microsoft's market share,” he predicted.

“However,” Olds added, “with Outlook being bundled with Microsoft Office, converting large numbers of users from Outlook to Gmail is still going to be an uphill climb.”

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