Read Write Web has an in-depth article on Offline Gmail. Apparently Gmail with Gears (Google's offline technology) has just emerged from Google Labs and is now available to all users.
In the article Sarah Perez asks the question why Google bothered when they have also stated that they are abandoning Gears 2 development and focusing on using the offline features that are being baked in to the HTML5 specifications.
Sarah, I have an answer to your question of "Why bother?"
Google is in a battle with Microsoft and is continually pushing the Google Apps suite as an alternative to Microsoft Office and Microsoft Exchange. Google keeps adding capabilities to the Google Apps offering. In fact Alex Williams at Read Write Web reported on "Google adding Google Groups to the Apps suite." It is moves like this that make it obvious why Google is pushing ahead with Gmail with Google Gears and not waiting for HTML5 ratification.
Enterprises are notoriously slow to move. This has worked to Microsoft's advantage for years. I can attest to this - at work it is only in the middle of 2009 that our company moved from IE6 to IE7. Despite IE8 now being available.
Email is the life blood of many companies. How many readers live and die by access to their email on their Blackberry? One of the big differences between Google and Microsoft is that Outlook can happily work in an offline mode. Google needs a similar capability. One that doesn't depend upon Microsoft Outlook and IMAP or an Exchange Connector. Delivering Gmail with Gears allows Google to offer Gmail in the browser with offline support. The beauty of the browser-based app is that Google will be able to seamlessly switch out Gears for HTML5 based upon the detection of which browser model a user is working with.
By releasing Gears Google can offer offline Gmail as part of the Google Apps for Enterprises even if those enterprise customers have been slow to upgrade to current releases of their preferred browser. Other tricks that Google have demonstrated that allow Google tools to run inside Microsoft browsers just serve to confirm Google's thinking about removing the barriers to adoption of their products.
So there you have it. Google is releasing Gears in Gmail to allow Enterprise users to use Gmail offline, even if they are still running an antiquated or non=standard compliant browser and adoption of Google Apps for Enterprises is no longer tied to the ratification, and more importantly the slow adoption of the standard. Microsoft can drag its feet on HTML5 compliance in IE9 or IE10 and even if enterprises are slow to adopt IE7, IE8 or IE9 Google can still deliver an offline solution.