Gearing up with e-mail

E-mail has become one of the most vital communications tools that most of us use every day.

For this reason, e-mail has featured often in these columns, and today I’m going to return to the subject to discuss my ongoing adventures with Google’s Gmail service. I’ve been using Gmail for a couple of years, since it was available by invitation only, and have found it to be an extremely valuable addition to my computing arsenal.

The move away from an e-mail package based on my desktop computer at home has proved invaluable over and over again, seeing that I can now access my mail from wherever I happen to be. The only nagging doubt I had was that I didn’t have way of backing up my e-mails, stored on Google servers, and was therefore totally dependent on them to keep everything safe and sound.

I searched high and low for a means of backing up my e-Gmail and eventually came up with the fact that Gmail does allow IMAP-compliant e-mail clients to access the system and download all or part of the email stored there. I eventually settled on the Thunderbird e-mail client and the full story of that is documented in a previous column, which is available here.

The solution worked very well and I was able, not only to download messages from Gmail, but to have Thunderbird copy messages that I had created locally to my Gmail account. Then came the terrible episode when my hard drive was accidentally toasted during a computer upgrade, and I was forced to go back and recreate everything that I had done over the last couple of years.

The Thunderbird-IMAP solution was very workable, if a trifle fiddly to set up, so I decided to go out and see if there were any new ways to back Gmail up. The first thing I found was a program called Gmail Backup, whose name gives you a very accurate idea of what it does, and it does simplify the matter of creating a backup of all your Gmail messages.

The program is free from and it will download your e-mail messages so that you have a copy of them safe on your local hard drive. It is a work in progress and only gives you a straight choice between backing up all your messages or just those from before or after a particular date, or between two dates.

Gmail Backup sounds very useful and, if you only need a simple backup, it sounds as though it would be fine for that. I wanted a bit more and I was looking around for another solution which would give me the backup facility, and also allow me to use Gmail on my desktop computer if Gmail was ever offline, heaven forbid, or my Internet connection wasn’t working.

Quite by chance, I came across a browser add-on called Gears, which was developed by Google, and is compatible with most modern browsers. It allows you to use certain websites even if you’re offline and, Gmail’s case, it stores a copy of your messages on your local computer so you can access them when you’re offline .

This sounded like just the job to me, so I went along to the Gears site at and downloaded the program for use with my Firefox browser. The next step was very simple and meant going into my Gmail account, going to the Labs setting under settings, and switching on the Gmail Offline facility.

No sooner was that done, than Gears and Gmail started talking to each other and Gears started downloading my messengers to the hard drive. At the time of writing, Gears said it had downloaded all my messages, but that it had still had 2856 attachments to download.

It’s early days to comment on Gears and Gmail’s offline facility, but it does look very promising. I have noticed that Google is usually very careful about making sure that its various bits and pieces work, before releasing them on the unsuspecting public. More to follow in future columns.

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3 thoughts on “Gearing up with e-mail

  1. hi, i'm an avid read of your articles in the Sunday Magazine, and thought i drop a note to mention that your articles are really interesting – awesome, keep up the great posts

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