Google Tests An Offline Email Client

Tedschadler by Ted Schadler

This has been long rumored by Google Apps watchers, but we get confirmation today: Google is testing an offline email client. This is a Google Gmail Labs feature, which means that it's really test code for the brave. In fact, the Gmail Labs site helpfully warns that "there's an escape hatch" if a feature breaks.

That said, this is a big deal for Google. (Caveat: I haven't tested it yet, so I'll have to report back once I do). Here's what it means:

  • WIM #1: Google is accelerating its push into the enterprise. No IKM professional can in good conscience switch to an online-only email solution for the majority of their iWorkers. But if Google offers and supports an offline email and calendar client, then that objection will be off the table, and more firms should consider Google Apps, at least for their occasional users. (Other legitimate concerns to switching to Google Apps will remain, of course, including a disruptive shift in experience and the lack of good integration with Microsoft Office and SharePoint.)
  • WIM #2: Cloud doesn't mean no client software. Instead, it means richer experiences with more client software. This is already IBM Lotus's client strategy. According to Lotus VP of Development, Alistair Rennie, Lotus offers a steady progression of functionality that begins with an open browser, extends to browser plug-ins, and culminates in installed software. With this move, Google demonstrates that it understands this strategy: Services + User Experience Software.
  • WIM #3: Gmail Labs is a place to monitor for the future of email. Google has permission to experiment publicly. It's a "this road is officially closed, proceed at your own risk" strategy. Gmail Labs has a lot of odd stuff on it, but it also has a collection of intriguing features. Today, for example, I found an "Email Addict" blocker that forces a person to take a break and an "Add any Gadget by URL" feature that makes it easier to add gadgets to the left navigation bar.

Comments, suggestion, improvement? Please comment.

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re: Google Tests An Offline Email Client

Ted,At you WIM#2 you seem to slightly overlook Microsoft's role in the 'cloud meets client' initiative as a good example. Microsoft calls it not Service + Software but Software + Services, not just a term, but a strategy.www.microsoft.com/softwareplusservices

re: Google Tests An Offline Email Client

Hi Ted ... There’s another WIM point here that I think we should add: Google better start accelerating its push to the enterprise lest others using its technology beat it to the punch. Zoho Mail used Google Gears to provide offline email access last fall - and we're not talking beta. The perception that Google takes forever to move out of beta exists for a reason. Lucky for them Zoho doesn’t have the same brand recognition and wants to play nice (and reap the rewards of Google Gears). They even congratulated Google on its new offline email capability even though it’s direct competition: http://blogs.zoho.com/general/gears-on-a-roll/

re: Google Tests An Offline Email Client

Good point, Sheri. Google Gears is a fundamental piece of technology that others can adopt and deploy. (Good platform strategy, Google.) I agree that the company needs to be more transparent in its enterprise commitment and strategy. I keep imagining a press headline like "Google Hires Software Industry Veteran To Accelerate Enterprise Business."Ted

re: Google Tests An Offline Email Client

Great point, Peter, and it's spot on. Microsoft has a strategy called "software + services" that encompasses this idea of a managed client and a service. I think others also understand that cloud services require owning the complete user experience, including the device software. That's what makes Google's approach so interesting: They are providing all kinds of client software, for BlackBerry, for browsers, for iPhone, etc.But I do think I'll the change the bullet to "Services + User Experience" to make that point clearer. Thanks!Ted

re: Google Tests An Offline Email Client

Ted,I do agree that user experience covers this also, however in the light of Google announcement of "offline email" the user experience clearly requires client software. In essence Software + Services is the strategy that creates and guarantees the best user experience.Like Google also many other vendors create client software for mobile devices. For Microsoft this strategy is obvious hence the availabiity of Exchange Active Sync for iPhone. OCS client for BlackBerry, etc.I do not see where Google creates such a unique distictions ..

re: Google Tests An Offline Email Client

Ted,I do agree that user experience covers this also, however in the light of Google announcement of "offline email" the user experience clearly requires client software. In essence Software + Services is the strategy that creates and guarantees the best user experience.Like Google also many other vendors create client software for mobile devices. For Microsoft this strategy is obvious hence the availabiity of Exchange Active Sync for iPhone. OCS client for BlackBerry, etc.I do not see where Google creates such a unique distictions ..

re: Google Tests An Offline Email Client

Sorry, had an "chapta issue" please remove my redundant comment ..