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Google's online document and spreadsheet editors will no longer offer offline access as of May 3, and it's unclear when it will return.

On Monday, the company introduced updated versions of its Google Docs editors, and unlike previous versions they do not provide offline access through the Google Gears browser extension, which the company is now moving away from in favor of the HTML5 standard. Currently, the updated editors are merely "previews," and the existing versions are still available. But on May 3, Google will remove offline access entirely, as it develops an offline model that uses HTML5 and other technologies

"The new Google Docs editors will take advantage of faster rendering engines in modern browsers as well as new web standards like HTML5," the company said in a blog post. "As a result, we need to temporarily remove offline support for Docs starting May 3rd, 2010. We know that this is an important feature for some of you, and we are working hard to bring a new and improved HTML5-based offline option back to Google Docs."

The company is not saying when it expects the new versions to be ready.

It's worth noting that in the fall or early winter, Google's browser-based Chrome OS will make its debut on real live netbooks, and we have long expected Mountain View to introduce new versions of Google Docs at the same time. The OS does not allow for local applications other than Google's own Chrome browser, and it's specifically designed to cache data for offline use.

Google has merely said that Chrome OS machines will arrive towards the end of the year.

But for some stretch of time beginning in May, no Google Docs users will have the option of working offline. Some have speculated that this will turn off a portion of its existing users, but knowing Google, its internal data shows that this portion is quite small. ®

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