This has been long rumoured 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 brower, extends to browser plug-ins, and culminates in installed software. With this move, Google demonstrates that it understands this strategy: Services + Software.
- WIM #3: Gmail Labs is a place to monitor for the future of email. Google has permission to experiment publically. 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.