Now there's one less excuse for not dealing with your e-mail.
Google Inc. is giving people a way to manage their e-mail even when they're offline, marking the Internet search leader's latest move to unshackle its services from the Web.
The offline feature introduced this week is aimed primarily at workers who rely on Google's Gmail service as part of their jobs. But anyone with a standard account can choose the option. (This can be accomplished by clicking on "settings" and then entering Google's "labs" section.)
After the e-mail box synchronizes with a computer's hard drive, virtually all of Gmail's usual tools become functional offline — except for the ability to send and receive messages. Those chores are handled the next time a computer connects to the Internet.
Google is trying to lessen its dependence on Internet advertising by selling an online package of commonly used business programs that include a souped-up version of Gmail. The offline feature makes the e-mail program more competitive with rival Microsoft Corp.'s Exchange and Outlook programs, which are widely used by corporations.
Google previously added an offline feature to its word processing and spreadsheet programs, as well as its Picasa service for digital photography. The Mountain View, Calif.-based company plans to take its calendar application offline later this year.
By adding offline capability to Gmail, Google also catches up with rival Yahoo Inc., whose larger — and also free — e-mail service has been able to work without Internet access since last July.
To take Yahoo mail offline, users first have to download the company's Zimbra software to their computers. The Zimbra program also can be used to work offline on competing services, including Gmail.
Gmail is making its offline leap through Gears, a Google-owned service that the much smaller Zoho relied on to provide offline access to its e-mail program last year.