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Google brewing 'offline' web office apps

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Web 2.0 Expo Embracing the web's next-generation "markup language" - HTML 5 - Google is prepping versions of its online office apps that also work offline. Up to a point.

As Google revealed in February, it's already built an HTML 5 version of the five-year-old Gmail that runs on the downsized browsers of devices like the Apple iPhone and Google's own Android phones.

And today, Google vice president of engineering Vic Gundotra confirmed the company is moving all of its web-based business apps to HTML 5, so that, in part, these apps are suited to devices with intermittent internet access. Gundotra was speaking at tech-book publisher Tim 2.O'Reilly's Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, California.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C's) as-yet unfinished HTML 5 includes an app cache, which can automatically make local copies of, say, email or documents so they can be accessed when a device is offline. Today, during an on-stage chat with 2.0'Reilly, Gundotra once again showed off Google's HTML 5 Gmail prototype running on both the iPhone and the T-mobile Googlephone, waxing solipsistic about its ability to automatically cache messages for offline reading.

And he indicated it would soon be released to the public.

"I would stay tuned of this," he trumpeted. "Right now it's a technical prototype, but when we make it broadly available, I think that people are really going to see this as the first HTML 5 mobile version from a five-chip app like Gmail."

The other advantage of his HTML 5 Gmail incarnation, Gundotra boasted, is that it operates across disparate mobile platforms. "For the first time on phones, the internet - the web - is emerging a real platform for apps," he said, waving at his new prototype.

"My development team was able to have one code-base using the rich new features of HTML5 - including app case, the database - and it runs on both the iPhone and Android. Imagine being able to run apps that run across all phones - because of the web."

The view is in stark contrast to Microsoft "software plus services" pitch that Microsoft business division honcho Stephen Elop trotted out at the Expo on Tuesday evening. "We said a couple of years ago that what we needed to do was fully embrace what we call 'software plus services,' the recognition that as software evolves, there's an important role for client technology combined with what happens in the cloud," Elop insisted. "The truly best user experiences will come from that combination."

At the end of his chat, Gundotra indicated that an HTML 5 version Google Docs and Spreadsheets is also in the works. But Elop had dismissed these online only tools - or at least their existing incarnations - as "free bolding, underlining, italics, and footnotes."

Gundotra's response? "[Microsoft] has to say that."

Before arriving at Google, Gundotra spent 15 years at Microsoft, working on everything from Windows 3.0 to Vista. And - tellingly - he jumped ship for the Mountain View Chocolate Factory because he suddenly realized that the future of the PC wasn't on the PC.

"I think the entire world is moving to mobile. Mobile is the most personal of all personal computers," he told 2.0'Reilly.

Gundotra shares 2.0'Reilly's view that mobile is "Google's most important strategic initiative" - though he acknowledged his bias. As vice president of engineering, he also oversees Google's mobile play. ®

Bootnote

You can see Gundotra's HTML 5 Gmail presentation from February's Mobile World Congress here:

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