My hypothesis is that the latest Chrome does break offline Gmail, based on the following experimental evidence:
Act One: About eight hours ago, as noted in a choleric-themed dispatch, I observed that I had been out of range for a long time, and was way backed up on messages to answer. So I loaded up the Gmail Offline queue on my computer* as I prepared for the long flight back to DC.
While I was still in the San Diego airport, my offline Gmail screen looked like this -- messages deliberately blurred up but still included to show that there was something in there to answer:
Oh, yes, I forgot to mention that this morning I got a self-update note from Google's Chrome, which is my main web browser, announcing that it was installing the latest exciting new release, Chrome 28. As shown on my machine just now:
Act Two: I get on the plane and settle in for five hours of catching up. I jam my knees into the seat-back ahead of me, so that the louche-seeming character there can't recline all the way back into my lap (ie, "working" area). Obviously I am no longer connected (this is a United flight, with no GoGo etc). And when I call up Offline Gmail, I see this:
In case you can't read it, it says "No offline messages." Ie, of the several zillion messages I am worried about, exactly zero are available for handling during the next five hours. I spend two minutes grinding my teeth about this. Then I decide to read a book -- The Last Good Chance, by Tom Barbash, a very good novel I like a lot -- and later to watch a movie, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. Hey, you've got to go high-low. All in all, this may have been a better way to spend those five hours. But if there had been something really crucial, I might have been less serene.
Acts Three and Four: I test my hypothesis again when I get home.
When I have a working connection, Gmail Offline loads up all the messages the way I would expect.
But if I turn off the Wifi on my computer, I get the same "No offline messages" that so startled me on the plane.
[Update] On my other computer, with the older version of Chrome (27.0.1453.110), Gmail Offline still works OK whether it has a connection or not.
Message for the computing public: If you have an option about upgrading Chrome to version 28, I say: What's the rush? At least if you might want to do some offline work, you could wait until they iron this wrinkle out.
Message for Google: Hey, please fix this. It's good to "fail fast," but it's also good to fix things fast after they fail. While you're at it, could you please also fix the *long-standing Gmail Offline bug, mentioned frequently in this space, that concerns how much mail it should cache? In theory you can choose: mail from the past week, past 2 weeks, past month. In practice, no matter what you choose, in a day or two it sneaks back to "past week," so you have to remember before any trip to go in and change it to past month.
So tomorrow will be the time to deal with those stacked-up must-answer messages.
UPDATE: This appears to be a genuine, reproducible bug. If you're using Chrome 27x, then Gmail Offline will populate whether you are on or off line. With Chrome 28, Gmail Offline works ok when you don't need it (ie, when you have a connection), but comes up empty when you don't have a connection. Beware!
Routine disclosure: I have many friends who work at Google, though perhaps fewer now than before this post. Also, one of my sons works there, though not on Gmail Offline.
James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne.
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