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Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

How 'Offline' Web Apps Will Work on Google Chromebooks

Google’s new laptops will handle times without 3G service or WiFi access with features standard in HTML5 but not supported by all browsers

  • May 16, 2011

Some of Google’s new Chromebooks will have 3G connectivity, but it will be paltry – 100mb a month. Some won’t even have that, and will be WiFi only. So how are you going to use Gmail and Google Docs when you’re not in range of a hotspot, or you’re 35,000 feet in the air, racing to finish something for work?

To some extent, HTML5 has you covered. Versions of Google Mail and Google Docs that will come out in June will be able to access two elements standard in the HTML5 specification.

The first is a local, browser-specific cache for the data a web app uses. The second is a cache for a web app’s executable code. Together, these two things are everything an offline web app could possibly need.

The only hitch is that, according to former Google engineer Brian Kennish, the Javascript and HTML5 Application Programming Interfaces required to make web apps work offline aren’t supported on all web browsers yet. Google controls Chrome, so Google can make offline web apps work on its Chromebooks as soon as they launch.

Here’s a video of Google’s Vic Gundotra showing how offline storage of web apps and data allow access to Google mail on an iPhone, even when it’s not connected to the network.

Of course, none of this addresses how well Google’s apps will work offline. Or, for that matter, why everyone’s so excited to download apps from the web that can only work in the browser, when we can already download apps to devices that aren’t as dependent on the network as the Chromebook.

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