Google expands Docs offline

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Google's over-the-internet software for editing, uploading and sharing office documents, known as Google Docs, can now be used offline, Google software engineer, Philip Tucker said on a blog yesterday.

The development, announced with little fanfare, represents another step in the evolution toward Internet-based or 'cloud' computing.

Google Docs allows users to work with a wide range of file formats, including DOC, XLS, ODT, ODS, RTF, CSV, PPT, and make many of the basic formatting and editing changes for free that are available on hosted word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software packages.

'Cloud computing is great,' wrote Tucker, 'but you need the cloud to make it work. On an airplane, on the shuttle commuting to work, or at home when my cable modem goes down, I want to work on my documents. And, until now, that usually meant saving a copy and editing on the desktop. With Google Docs offline, I can take my little piece of the cloud with me wherever I go,' he wrote.

So long as users have an Internet connection and a web browser, changes to documents are saved 'to the cloud.' When a connection is lost, however, features are sacrificed. In the initial release of Google Docs offline, it is still possible to view and edit word processing documents and save changes on a local computer. When the Internet connection is restored, documents are synced up again with the server.

Lost or interrupted connections are a bigger problem in many parts of the world than the issue of needing to work on a plane, said Google's David Girouard, vice president for enterprise business worldwide in an interview with GCN yesterday. Girouard is delivering the kickoff keynote address at the annual FOSE 2008 Conference and Exhibition which begins in Washington, DC today.

Offline support for presentation and spreadsheet documents are not yet available, according to Tucker. No date was mentioned for their release. And Google Docs offline is only available in English at the moment; but efforts are underway to roll out offline access in other languages. It will also be available to Google Apps users soon. Domain administrators that want it now can opt-in via their control panel, said Tucker.

Google Docs offline utilizes GoogleGears, an open source browser extension that lets developers create Web applications that can run offline. Gears is still in the early-access stages of release. It provides three key features, according to Google: a local server, to cache and serve application resources (HTML, JavaScript, images, etc.) without needing to contact a server; a database, to store and access data from within the browser; and a worker thread pool, to make web applications more responsive by performing expensive operations in the background.

The move comes as somewhat of a surprise to Google watchers. Earlier this month, in another interview with GCN, Matthew Glotzbach, the director of enterprise product management at Google, indicated that the company had no immediate plans to adapt Google Docs for offline use.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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