Google has made available in beta an offline capability for its Gmail platform so business and consumer users can work with email while disconnected from the network.

The company said that its Gmail Labs is developing and testing offline capabilities that allow users to read compose and archive messages while offline. New messages are sent when the user reattaches to the network.

The service is built on the two-year-old Google Gears platform, which already is the foundation for offline access in Google Docs, Google Reader, and a handful of third-party web applications.

The offline access allows users to load the Gmail client without a network connection. The feature initially will be only for US and UK English versions of the client.

Such offline features for email clients have been available for years from major corporate messaging vendors such as IBM/Lotus, Microsoft and Novell. Offline capabilities are a must-have feature if Google hopes to make significant inroads with corporate customers on the back of its Google Apps Premier Edition (GAPE), which includes Gmail.

"This is a major step along the way," writes Joyce Sohn, Google Apps marketing manager on her corporate blog. She cautioned users that not all the "kinks" have been worked out yet.

Users of GAPE will need to have their domain administrators activate the service before they can install the offline features.

Users of Google Apps Standard Edition will need to sign in to Gmail and click "Settings." From there, they will click the "Labs" tab and select "Enable" next to the Offline Gmail entry. Users will then click "Save Changes" to complete the install.

After the install, the Gmail client will have an "Offline" link, which is used to begin the synchronisation process with the Gmail server.

The feature will be made available in the coming days to consumer users of Gmail.

Google officials said that business users would soon get offline access to Google Calendar, but they did not provide an exact date.