This post serves two purposes, the first is to let people know how to enable offline access to Gmail, and secondly to let people know how important it is to enable offline access.
There is a misconception that Gmail doesn’t allow offline access, and lots of people are on the edge of their seats waiting for Google to bring in Gears support for Gmail so they can finally read their email while on a plane. Well Gmail has always had offline access – since day one, first with through the POP protocol and more recently also using IMAP. Both protocols allow you to access your Gmail account with a desktop client, and also give you offline access by being able to access your emails without an internet connection. Using Gears to give you offline access to Gmail is an incredibly complicated process and I’m unsure why it’s needed, especially as ALL operating systems for the last 10 years have included an adequate mail client by default. So stop waiting for Gears for Gmail to be enabled and just set up your Gmail account in your desktop email client, or download the excellent Thunderbird mail client from Mozilla. For help setting up your Gmail account for offline access, read the “Getting started with IMAP for Gmail” article in the Google help centre. I recommend using IMAP over POP3 as your read/unread status is synchronised between the client and the server.
Now for those of you who are completely against using desktop software (“everything should be in the cloud…”) keep reading, as I’ll now explain why it’s essential that you get this setup ASAP.
Now that you’ve got offline access to your emails, you also have a complete backup of your mailbox sitting on your computer. If you value the contents of your emails at all, having a backup is essential. What if you couldn’t access your Gmail account for a day or two? Or, what if Google accidentally (or purposefully) deleted or disabled your account? Without an offline backup of your emails, you would have absolutely no way of accessing your account. Think this isn’t possible? Well read the article about someone who recently had their account disabled by Google. Or read the article from PC World about how Gmail customers recently couldn’t access their emails for almost a day. Search the internet for more examples and you’ll find similar stories from others who have had their Google accounts deleted or disabled without warnings.
The current trend in computing is all about moving your data into the clouds, but if you don’t keep a reliable, offline backup of your data, you’re putting yourself in a precarious position.