When Google announced last week that it was opening Google calendar to offline access for Apps customers, I couldn't help but shake my head and chuckle. Just a few weeks earlier, it had been Gmail that was released into the offline world - for all customers, not just those using Apps. And not quite a year ago, it was Google Docs.
For several years, I'd been hearing the folks at Google talk about life in the cloud, about how a computer that wasn't connected to the Internet was a computer that wasn't really working. And, now, here they were slowly back-pedaling to bring those online apps into the offline world. Had Google spoken too soon and jumped the gun on an all-online solution? I was fully prepared to sit down over the weekend and hammer out a post to give them some friendly ribbing.
But then, over the weekend, I found myself without a connection (we were visiting family out of town) and suddenly needing to take a look at a file that I knew was in my Gmail inbox. I had already accepted that I was going to have to go out in the rain and find a WiFi hotspot to get this document. But then I remembered that I had installed offline access a few weeks back, so I opened my laptop, launched the offline version of Gmail, grabbed the file and was in business.
OK, that's great and all - and it turned out to be a happy ending over the weekend - but how am I now supposed to give Google any grief over its expansion into offline when the mantra for so long was online, online, online?
I guess I can't.
I'm a fan of working in the cloud and am actually looking forward to the days when all of our content - whether family photos or insurance policies - will be securely stored somewhere on the Internet, only a few clicks away from appearing on a network-connected screen in the kitchen or the living room. But for now, there are still plenty of instances and situations - like an afternoon at Grandma's house or on a cross-country flight to a business meeting - where there may be no Internet connection.
If Google seriously wants to attract more business customers away from a client-based Outlook world to a browser-based Gmail world, then it can't just get them to switch from one to the other cold-turkey. It has to give those customers a taste of both worlds, a transition from old school to new school. Offline access is one of the ways it can do that.
Google still has a ways to go to get it all right. Offline calendar, for example, only allows users to read from, not write to, their offline-access calendars. But it's a good start toward building a mainstream cloud.