Google adds offline support to Docs

Google is finally starting to reintroduce offline support for its cloud-based productivity suite Google Docs, albeit in a read-only and sadly limited form.

Google Docs is a popular tool for collaboration and web-based document creation: boasting compatibility with common file types including Microsoft Office and the Open Document Format, a generous helping of free storage space, and easy to use web-based tools, it's proving a tempting move for those unwilling to shell out for the latest iteration of Microsoft's offering.

Sadly, it lacks one key feature: offline support. If your desktop, laptop, mobile, or even Chromebook drops off the 'net, your files are inaccessible. That's a problem common to many web-based packages, but its one for which Google previously had a solution: Google Gears.

Built in to Google Chrome and available as an add-on for Mozilla Firefox, Google Gears was a tool that allowed web-based apps to access local storage. While it never took off, it was integrated into several of Google's products including the Docs productivity suite and Reader RSS aggregator.

Unfortunately, Google killed it off towards the end of last year, promising to replace it with a native HTML5-powered offline access mode for all its many services. The announcement was met with cautious optimism, but since then offline support has been noticeable in its absence - and Google has deactivated Gears, so you can't even use the old method.

The news that Google is finally getting around to introducing offline support for its products will be welcomed, but sadly it's not all it could have been: initially, at least, users will need to be using Google's Chrome browser - or the open-source Chromium on which it is based - for which a special web-app version of Docs is available to enable the offline access.

Once enabled, users are able to access both word-processed documents and spreadsheets offline, but only to view them: modifications can't be made until your browser reconnects to Google's server. Other file types, such as presentations, are also absent from the list of features.

It's a good start, but until Google adds in editing and additional file types - along with offline support for its other apps, like Calendar and Reader - it will likely find Gears fans still mourning the package's demise.