Gmail users, listen up: A small but significant surprise is waiting for you inside your inbox.
As we gear up for the start of Google's annual I/O developers' shindig this morning, the powers-that-be have snuck an incredibly useful feature into the new Gmail interface. It's the app's recently revealed native offline mode — something that was announced as part of the new Gmail rollout but hadn't actually been available until now.
The new offline mode is a huge step up from Gmail's previous offline functionality. That setup worked only via a separate Chrome extension and used an awkwardly stripped-down mobile-like interface in place of the regular Gmail environment.
Gmail's new offline mode, in contrast, "just works": Once you've enabled it, all you have to do is open up the regular Gmail website, and you can then read through your recent messages and even compose new emails right then and there. Any messages you send will be stored in a new "Outbox" folder and then sent out as soon as you're back online.
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You can opt to have Gmail store emails from the last seven days, 30 days, or 90 days. And you can choose to keep offline data on your computer indefinitely or to have Gmail remove all data every time you sign out of your Google account — and then to resync it from scratch every time you sign back in. That latter option makes the feature viable even if you're using a shared computer.
The only real catch is that the new Gmail's offline mode works only with Chrome (version 61 or higher) — as well as on the equivalent version of Chrome OS — and you'll have to set it up in advance and then be sure to have the Gmail website open before you lose connectivity. If you don't have Gmail already open by the time you go offline, you won't be able to load the page.
Ready to use it?
Assuming you're using the new Gmail, you can activate the new offline mode right now by clicking the gear icon in the site's upper-right corner, selecting "Settings," then selecting the "Offline" tab. Check the box labeled "Enable offline mail," select how many days' worth of messages you want Gmail to store, then select whether you want Gmail to keep offline data on the computer indefinitely or to delete it every time you sign out of Google.
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Be sure to click the "Save changes" button at the bottom of the screen, and that's it: You're officially offline-ready — no extensions or funky interfaces required.
Not seeing the option yet on your Google account? Try refreshing the page. On one of the numerous accounts I tested, I saw the old prompt to install the Offline Gmail extension when I first looked (using a Chromebook) — but a quick refresh of the window caused the new native offline option to appear.
Oh, and last but not least: If you ever want to remove all of Gmail's offline data, first open up Chrome's settings and scroll all the way to the bottom. Click "Advanced," then click "Content settings" (underneath the "Privacy and security" header). Next, click "Cookies," then "See all cookies and site data." To ensure you remove everything, Google recommends you click the "Remove all" option at the top of that screen.
After that, just go back into that same "Offline" area of Gmail's settings and uncheck the box next to "Enable offline mail."
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[Android Intelligence videos at Computerworld]