Mysteries of Technology, Part 1,287: Gmail and Chrome

By James Fallows

See important / embarrassing UPDATE below!

Gmail, as you may have heard, is made by Google.

So is the browser Chrome, which I use and like.

Today I have the (millionth) long plane ride ahead, so I wanted to cue up my (zillions of) unanswered emails so that I can at least pretend to deal with some of them. Solution: Offline Gmail! Promoted by the company as a step toward making the Google Apps suite a real contender for all-around use.

So before the trip I switch on "Offline Mail" in my Gmail settings. No dice, in Firefox. Maybe that is because I am using a beta. No problem: surely Google's own Chrome will do the job!

But actually, no. Screen shot from my Chrome browser, on Mac:

Gmail.png

"Your browser," in this case, is actually your (Google's) browser, the one you want me to use. If I were younger and more churlish, I would say: WTF? In my real incarnation I'll just say: It is puzzling that a company would not support one of its big new features in its own big new-ish browser.

Oh well. There is always Thunderbird.
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UPDATE: OOPS!! I once knew, and in a post-debate blear had forgotten, that offline support of Chrome Gmail had switched from the Google Gears version to a "Chrome App," from the Chrome Web store. Details here. Maybe another reason I had forgotten, apart from post-debate derangement disorder, is denial: When I tried this approach before, I realized that while it looks better and cleaner, it is a step backward in function and ease of use from the previous Gears-based version, and even from Thunderbird. (For instance: as best I remember, keyboard shortcuts had worked in Gmail's previous Offline version. They don't now, which to me is a huge deal. Also, in the new version it is more tedious to be sure that you have loaded all the contents of your inbox for offline processing. It does not have an obvious 'Select All' function, for instance for marking a lot of messages from the spam folder for deletion. The old version accepted a lot of customizable settings. This does not.  Etc.) Also it is mysterious why there wouldn't be a more obvious pointer to it in the error screen I show above. The error message might as easily say: "Offline Mail is no longer supported by your browser. Click here to install new Online App." Or something.

But, I should have noted that this alternate approach exists. No more post-debate tech blogging for me! Thanks to MM and others for writing in, and a blush of chagrin for mis-representing this. Now on to that email queue... 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/10/mysteries-of-technology-part-1-287-gmail-and-chrome/246954/