For all the talk Google Docs gets as being a potential “Microsoft Office Killer”, it has thus far lacked one crucial component: Offline access. That is going to change very soon as Robert Scoble learned today in a talk with Ken Norton, a product manager at Google (see the embedded video below). The talk was aired on Scoble’s Scobleizer TV show on FastCompany.tv.
Utilizing the web browser plug-in, Google Gears (currently available only for Internet Explorer and Firefox), users will now be able to access and edit their Google Documents when they are not connected to an Internet connection. This will work in the same way it currently works for Google Reader. Google Gears tells the application to download all the data it will need so that you can work without being connected to Google’s servers.
Interestingly, while you will be able to download Google Spreadsheets and Presentations as well, these will be read-only as The Last Podcast points out. This renders the new feature no more useful for these two types of documents than exporting to an external file (unless, I guess, if you have no access to any software that can view them).
Still, the offline access to word processing is a huge move toward Google legitimately challenging Microsoft’s Office suite. While most people are around an Internet connection most of the day, when you go on a trip and need to get work done in an area with no connection (such as a plane), offline support will alleviate a lot of users’ fears in leaving old, trusty Microsoft Word.
update: Google has more information on The Official Google Blog as well as the Official Google Docs Blog which notes that you can “bring the cloud with you.” The Google Gears support for Google Docs begins rolling out to selected users today and will continue over the next few weeks.