Working Offline

One significant aspect of dial up networking is that you are not always connected to the network. Most of the time this means that in order to make use of the facilities available via your dial up network you actually have to dial in and connect to the network.

Most people use dial up networking to connect to the internet. Dialing your ISP and connecting to the internet every time that you want to read your emails or access a particular web page that you reference regularly is not necessarily the most convenient way to operate your system. Wouldn't it be more convenient to download your emails and read them later at your leisure without being connected at the time? Wouldn't it also be more convenient to be able to keep a copy of regularly referenced web pages on your computer so that you can reference them without having to connect to the internet? In other words we sometimes want to be able to work offline ie. without being connected to the network.

The various web browsers and email programs vary in how they provide the facility to work offline but most usually give you an option somewhere in the preferences to specify whether you want to always connect when running the program or never connect (ie. always work offline), some even allow you to select that you will decide each time you start the program whether to connect or not. By selecting this third option you can make the decision each time you start the program and are not already connected to your dial up network whether you wish to connect this time or to work offline. If this option isn't available you can achieve the same effect by selecting the never connect option and manually starting your connection beforehand if you want to connect to the internet.

So this gives you the ability to run the software without having to always go online. This in itself is not of much use unless the information that you wish to access is available offline (ie. on your computer) so the next thing we need to consider is how to get it there.

If you are using a separate email program to access your email and are not just using a web interface to access your emails on a remote server then chances are that your email program is already downloading copies of most or all of your emails to your own computer. In the case of plain text emails without attachments this means that you can as easily read and action your emails while offline as you can when connected. These email programs will allow you to create new emails or reply to existing emails while offline and will simply save the "sent" email on your system so that it can be sent automatically when next you go online. Emails using HTML or which have large attachments may not automatically copy everything to your system when the email itself is downloaded as images on remote servers can be referenced by an HTML email and large attachments may only download to your system if you specifically detach them. Also HTML emails may contain links to web pages that cannot be accessed while you are offline. You may still be able to deal with these emails while offline and if not then at least you have reduced the number of emails that you need to spend time on the next time that you connect.

Web browsers too download to your computer everything on any web page that you access while online. Until such time as you clear your browser cache (or the cache fills up and starts dropping older pages) every file required to display every web page that you have visited is available on your computer to be able to be redisplayed while offline. So any web page that you visit regularly should still be accessible even if you are offline. This can be easily seen in Internet Explorer Favorites where you will find that clicking on favorites where the page is stored on your computer results in the page being displayed. Pages in favorites that are not currently stored in the cache will be greyed out and can't be selected from favorites. If you click on a link on a web page that would take you to a page not stored in your cache then Internet Explorer will ask you if you wish to connect in order to display the page or if instead you wish to remain offline (and therefore not see the page).

The only disadvantage to working offline with web pages that you downloaded previously is that you will still be working with the downloaded version even after the version on the internet server has been changed. This would however still be true if you don't have your browser set to download the page again while you are online and the page has changed.

Overall, working offline with your emails and favourite web pages can enable you to significantly reduce the amount of time that you are connected to the internet. This not only reduces the cost involved in connecting (assuming that either your phone company, ISP, or both charge by time) it also reduces the amount of time that your computer is exposed to being attacked by crackers attempting to break into computers that are connected to the internet and reduces the potential damage that can be caused by viruses (provided that you discover them before going back online).


This article written by Stephen Chapman, Felgall Pty Ltd.

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