If you're a Google Docs user who sometimes needs to work out of range of Wi-Fi or any other Internet connection, then you may want to find an alternative -- at least, for a while.
Google has introduced, with some fanfare, a snazzy upgrade of Google Docs that includes a number of great-sounding new features, such as the ability to view changes from collaborators as they happen, better import capabilities, better formatting, and others. (Stay tuned for a review by Preston Gralla.) What the new version doesn't include, however, is offline access to your documents via Google Gears.
According to a recent blog post by Anil Sabharwal, product manager for Google Apps, the infrastructure of Docs has been restructured with an eye toward HTML 5. "As a result, we need to temporarily remove offline support for Docs starting May 3rd, 2010." This will, according to Google, not affect Gmail and Google Calendar.
Now, Google Gears has never been an ideal solution. I've used it on two platforms -- notebooks using Windows XP, and Linux-based netbooks -- and in both cases, I experienced problems with browser incompatibility, occasional Gears shut-downs, and once or twice, the loss of a couple of hours of work when an offline version didn't sync properly.
However, I am a bit peeved that Google seems to feel that offline use of its word processor is such a minor inconvenience that it isn't even giving us some kind of idea of when its HTML 5 offline solution will be up and running. While a few airlines are starting to offer Internet access, it's certainly not universal yet, and there are still plenty of other places where you're stuck without any kind of Wi-Fi. Without a solution such as Google Gears, those of us who use Google Docs will find that our documents will become inaccessible when we find ourselves offline.
There are, of course, workarounds and alternatives. We can, for example, download any documents we think we'll use on a flight onto our hard drive and use a standard (and accessible) word processor such as that in OpenOffice. We can move to an online service such as Zoho, which hasn't yet completely abandoned Google Gears functionality (although I understand it is also moving toward HTML 5).
Or we can simply wait.