No network? No problem for Google Docs on Firefox

If you use Google's G Suite apps and Mozilla's Firefox browser, good news: The two are going to get along much better.

The G Suite tools for word processing, spreadsheets, Gmail and other chores have worked better on Google's Chrome than on rival browsers in one important way: You can open and edit documents even when you don't have a network connection. That offline support is handy when you're on a plane or train or otherwise disconnected.

But now -- a full six years after Google said it hoped to do so -- the company is revamping its G Suite tools so they work offline with other browsers, too, the company confirmed to CNET.

To expand the offline support, Google is rebuilding G Suite tools like Google Docs and Google Sheets with new technology called progressive web apps. Specifically web-app plumbing called Service Worker adds offline data-access features. Service Worker abilities are already built into Chrome and Firefox and are now being added to Microsoft's Edge browser.

Hundreds of millions of people use G Suite, and hundreds of millions of others use Firefox and Edge. Adding the offline support significantly helps those people -- and means it's harder to accuse Google of favoring its own browser. Websites that work in only one browser undermine the web's advantage as a universal foundation for computing, one that's not controlled by any single company.

"Google first prototyped offline support for the web ... nearly a decade ago, and it is great to see this capability coming to Firefox via modern standards," Mozilla said in a statement. "We look forward to continuing to work with Google to ensure that Google web properties work great for millions of Firefox users."

Offline G Suite apps have indeed been a very, very long time coming, at least by internet standards. Back in 2011, Google said it planned to extend offline support beyond Chrome. But the approach Chrome used -- technologies called IndexedDB and AppCache -- didn't work broadly enough for Google to move forward, the company said.

Browser makers' enthusiasm for the progressive web app technology makes things very different now, though, said Taylor Savage, the product manager on the Chrome team overseeing progressive web apps. "Progressive web apps on Service Worker is like nothing we've seen before in terms of standardization and browser support," he said.

Google is working on the new approach but wouldn't yet say when it expected the new offline support to arrive in G Suite or detail whether it would address other shortcomings, like the restriction that a particular document can be edited only in a single browser tab while offline.

What about Safari users who want to work offline? Their fate isn't yet clear. Developers of WebKit, the open-source underpinnings of Apple's browser, only shows Service Worker support as "under consideration."

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