Why Google's Offline App Strategy will Benefit Chrome OS

by Sam Dean - Sep. 08, 2011Comments (5)

Now that Chromebooks--portable computers based on Google's Chrome OS--are maturing, it's easier to gauge the prospects for Google's first-ever operating system. As Jon Buys discussed here on OStatic, these portables have a number of strong points. However, there are criticisms appearing about them, too, and some of them echo ones made here on OStatic before. Specifically, Chrome OS imposes a very two-fisted, cloud-centric model for using data and applications, where traditional, local storage of data and apps is discouraged.   Recently, Google has sought to close this gap with its own apps, allowing users to work with its Gmail, Calendar and Docs apps offline. Will these moves help boost Chrome OS and use of Chromebooks? In enterprises, they may do so.

Google officials have explained the logic behind allowing offline usage of key Google apps in this post, where they write:

"Today’s world doesn’t slow down when you’re offline and it’s a great feeling to be productive from anywhere, on any device, at any time. We’re pushing the boundaries of modern browsers to make this possible, and while we hope that many users will already find today’s offline functionality useful, this is only the beginning. Support for offline document editing and customizing the amount of email to be synchronized will be coming in the future. We also look forward to making offline access more widely available when other browsers support advanced functionality (like background pages)."

While Google had previously announced its intent to deliver this offline functionality, the need for it was undoubtedly accelerated by some of the criticisms of the way Chrome OS forces users to work almost exclusively in the cloud. It's also not accidental that the offline capabilities are focused on Google applications that enterprises care about: mail, document-creation apps, etc.

Guillermo Garron has gone so far as to reverse his previous criticisms of Chrome OS based on the new offline functionality, as seen in his post here. He writes:

"This is something specially good for Chromebooks. Now they are not just new toys, they can be real productive tools…now Chromebooks are ready for Prime Time at least to do what they were designed for, with no limitations."

Researchers at Microsoft have produced data before that shows that most people use a maximum of five software applications on a regular basis. In delivering offline functionality for mail, document creation, and other absolutely key tasks for working people, Google is hedging the cloud-only bet that it made with Chrome OS upon its debut. It's the right move for Google to be making, and is likely to help win over some enterprises that would find working exclusively in the cloud to be too limiting.

Mark Walker uses OStatic to support Open Source, ask and answer questions and stay informed. What about you?


Except offline functionality in Docs is only good for viewing, and not composing new documents while offline.

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And you would add to the title “... and nobody else” . When Apple introduced their “HTML5 demo” and it was only for Safari, there was an outrage. When Google introduces "HTML5 offline storage" which is just for Chrome, why is it any different?

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I've always known Docs to be great for viewing never for writing new documents if offline ...

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@Matěj Cepl

The reason there was no outrage is because Google is implementing offline apps using HTML5 standards. Other HTML5 browsers will implement HTML5 storage standards but they haven't got around to it yet. In fact Google had their own proprietary offline storage system called Google Gears and had Google Docs working on it, but they dropped it in favour of WC3 compliant HTML standards. As you will no doubt realise Google has really been pushing to get offline capability for Chromebooks and has only just got around to implementing HTML5 storage in Chrome about a week ago. Others are not there yet with regards to implementation.

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I have worked in an office which used Google Docs and GMail for all its WP and Email needs. The UK office we used a ADSL Internet connection with an independent cable Internet connection for redundancy. In that time, we have never ever had a need for offline Google Docs or GMail. Power cuts have more frequently a problem than Internet outages with the setup we have. The same is not true of our Indian branch office where they have frequent power cuts and somewhat less frequent Internet outages. They use GMail in POP3 mode - they set up an in-office Linux mail server and fetchmail to fetch user's email and serve it up within the office using a webmail interface.

It has to be said though that if you have 3G on your Chromebook, then even without offline editing, you are better off on a Chromebook than a PC or laptop that doesn't have it (most users who complain about Chromebooks not having offline capability for Google apps in the past actually don't).

In UK and Europe, offline mode is only really required if you travel and regularly work outside the office. If you do so occasionally you can read and send email using the smartphones most companies issue to their employees.

From the comments I have read about on the poor state of the Internet, the US seems closer to India than Europe in terms of communications.

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