Google has never said that they're building a desktop operating system. No, the company just keeps coming out with more Windows-free applications and a mobile, Linux-powered operating system, Android. that can also be used as a desktop. No, no, Google isn't getting ready to release a full desktop with office suite. Not them.
The problem I've always had with network-reliant operating systems or programs has been that they're only as good as your network connection. Whether it was the mainframe and terminals that I cut my teeth on, client/server computing or network computers, I was always painfully aware that I was one zapped connection away from having my desktop turn into a useless desk decoration.
Google is addressing that concern by using Google Gears to let you use perhaps Google's most popular, non-search application, Gmail, off-line. This follows up on Google enabling you to use Google Docs off-line. You see, although when you think Google you also think of the Internet, they've actually been working to make Google applications off-line friendly for some time now.
Installing off-line Gmail, no matter what your operating system, is a little complicated. First, you must install Google Gears. Unfortunately, Google Gears doesn't run on 64-bit Linux. You'd think people would finally move all their software from 32 to 64-bit, but for a variety of reasons, that's still not happening.
Be that as it may, instead of installing on my 64-bit MEPIS 7 Linux system, I put Gears on my 32-bit Fedora 10 box. Once there, I needed to go to my GMail account and to turn to Settings/Labs to enable Offline. After that, you go back to the main GMail page and click on the new menu item, which will be on the immediate left of the GMail setting link and follow the instructions.
Then, you can do whatever you want and GMail will synchronize your mail. Once done, you can walk off and use your Google mail whether you're connected or not. Why, it's almost like using Lotus Notes or Microsoft Outlook now.
Now, if only Google Calendar could work off-line too. Wait, what's that I hear? Off-line Google Calendar is on its way too. Interesting isn't it?
So, by sometime this summer, you could have a Google Android Linux-powered netbook that also comes with its own version of Microsoft Office -- Google Docs, GMail, and Google Calendar -- that works as well off-line as online. I, for one, won't be surprised to find them in shops, say, sometime just before Windows 7 finally ships.