Making Gmail Really “Work Offline”

Gmail became a viable alternative to Outlook-obsessed users when mail began to be stored locally (thank Google Gears!). With the recent updates to labels, making them feel more like folders (we like drag-and-drop) and more generally, the Gmail Team’s commitment to innovation — Labs — Gmail really is pushing the envelope of email.

While Gmail is now a more comforting environment to those used to working on the desktop, it still is missing more than several of its counterparts’ features. For example, there is no way to attach old emails to a new one (common when a new employee starts or for context’s sake), it is not possible to drag-and-drop attachments onto a message (unless using Mailplane or an outdated Firefox add-on), or “Work Offline.”

For that last case, this point is not referring to the ability to use Google Gears and access or send mail (to the Outbox) while physically not connected to the Internet. Instead, it’s related to a little productivity trick — silencing the inbox from the day’s onslaught of new emails.

Fans of GTD, 4HWW, and other paradigms follow simple rules for processing email, such as only checking it during some times of the day. But the problem is that in today’s work environment, not having the inbox open is nearly impossible. The inbox houses documents, contact info, meeting notes, and often original thoughts, all of which need to be accessed throughout the day.

In the world of Outlook, Thunderbird, and other desktop email clients, this “problem” is overcome by a little flip of the “Work Offline” switch. Toggling that setting ensures no new emails arrive into the inbox, while at the same time being able to compose new messages and access the archive.

With “Offline Gmail,” whipping up a similar feature to force Gmail to “Work Offline” — even in the presence of an Internet connection — would not be difficult. It would curry favor with the productivity mavens and bring Gmail one step closer to assuming traditional email client features.

Until the Gmail Team gets after this one, if anyone wants to work with me on creating a Firefox add-on or Userscript to support “Work Offline,” drag-and-drop email attachments, or the ability to include include old emails as attachments to new messages, drop me a line. Gmail Team…I’m also available to help spec these out. :-)