Now that summer is drawing near, I’m getting ready for vacation. Many of the places I travel to have sporadic (or nonexistent) Internet access; campgrounds, hiking trails, and other out-of-the-way spots off the beaten path. While I don’t regularly plan to access my email from a mountaintop, the motto of any IT pro (and Boy Scout) is “Be Prepared.”

With that in mind, I’ve been experimenting with the Gmail Offline app for Chrome, which lets you download up to the last month of your mail to work offline (and for me, extensive email use away from civilization really requires a laptop; my mobile devices are too clunky when spending a lot of time on email). Gmail Offline is quick and easy to set up, and works in the background so you don’t need to manually download or synchronize data.

Stipulations for use

You must install the Gmail Offline app in Chrome using a live Internet connection and then let it download your email before it is ready for use. Since your mail is stored on the local hard drive it should be obvious that this is not a good choice for a public or shared system you don’t completely control or keep secured.

There are also some known issues to be aware of, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A

Getting Started

Sign into your Google account using Chrome, then access the Gmail Offline page in the Chrome web store. (Figure B)

Figure B

Click “Add to Chrome.” You will receive a prompt shown in Figure C.

Figure C

Click “Add.” The app will install, presenting the screen shown in Figure D.

Figure D

Click “Launch App.”

You’ll be prompted to check “Allow offline mail” (why they would add an option “Don’t allow offline mail” is beyond me, since this negates the whole purpose of installing the app!)

Click “Allow offline mail” then “Continue.” (Figure E)

Figure E

You will see your Gmail mailbox displayed in the “Offline Mail” mode. (Figure F)

Figure F

This view is similar to the standard Gmail interface, with the obvious omission of the ability to compose a new email. You can read, archive, and delete items quite easily. The down arrow icon in the upper right will provide further options. (Figure G)

Figure G

Note the menu button (Figure H) in the upper left of the Offline Mode screen.

Figure H

This button will let you access labeled items as shown in Figure I.

Figure I

There is also an option to configure how much of your mailbox to download for offline access (the default is to download only the past week of items). To change this, click the Gear icon in the upper right. (Figure J)

Figure J

You will then see the dropdown box as shown in Figure K.

Figure K

You can specify to download mail from the past week, two weeks, or month. Click Apply when done.

Test first

I highly recommend that you test this function in a genuine offline situation (for instance by unplugging your computer from the network and/or disabling the wireless adapter) so you can be sure it works. There is nothing more aggravating then finding out something isn’t functioning as expected after it’s too late to fix it!

When you’re ready to work offline you can either do so directly in the above browser tab (for example by hibernating your laptop while Chrome is still running, then powering it up again when you want to access your email offline), or by opening a new tab in Chrome. The new tab screen will show shortcuts for your installed apps and extensions. For instance, mine shows what you see in Figure L.

Figure L

Look for the “Gmail Offline” icon. (Figure M)

Figure M

Click “Gmail Offline” to access your mail. Any changes you make will be updated in your live Gmail account as soon as your computer reconnects to the Internet.

Note: if you get an error that “the app is currently unreachable” try uninstalling Gmail Offline (see below) then reinstalling it.

Removing Gmail Offline

If the product doesn’t meet your needs or you don’t anticipate needing it again, you can uninstall Gmail Offline by launching a new tab, right-clicking the icon and choosing “Remove from Chrome.” (Figure N)

Figure N

Click “Remove” to confirm. This does NOT delete the offline data from your system, however. Google recommends the following steps to do so:

  • Type chrome://settings/cookies into your address bar and press enter.
  • Search for (Figure O)

Figure O

Hover over the search results and click the X that appears to the right.

For more information, check out Google’s “Gmail without Internet connection” support page.

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