You might say Google is coming down from the cloud, or at least cloud computing, for its latest announcement.
Today the search giant unveiled a phased rollout of a new feature for users of the company’s online word processor, Google Docs — an enhancement that enables users to edit documents offline, as well.
Over the next several weeks, Google said Google Docs users would be notified of the new functionality.
“In three weeks, we expect all Google Docs users to have access to the new feature,” a Google spokesman told InternetNews.com.
Google Docs users will know the feature has been added if they see an “offline” menu item in the upper-right document window. Once an offline user reconnects to the service, any offline changes will sync up with what’s stored in their online account.
Google is using its free Google Gears browser plug-in to enable offline access. The open source Gears is designed to let any developer build their Web applications to work with it, and supports Firefox 1.5 and Internet Explorer 6.0 or later.
Google already added support through Gears for its Google Reader. The plug-in is also used by another program, an unaffiliated Web-based reminder app called Remember the Milk.
A Google statement describes today’s announcement as “another small step toward making Web applications accessible anywhere and everywhere.”
Indeed, bigger steps are to follow. The initial rollout is to users of the consumer-oriented Google Docs. That will be followed later in April with support for professionals — users of the Google Apps suite, through which administrators will be given the option to add the offline functionality for Docs.
Additionally, Google said it plans to make more of its Web applications and other services work in instances where Internet connections are unavailable. Initially, enhancements will include the ability to edit spreadsheets and view or edit presentations while offline with other applications to follow, it said.
The company added that it plans to show how they brought offline access to the programs — and how developers can do the same — in more detail at its Google I/O developer event, scheduled for May.