In a direct challenge to Microsoft's Office Suite, Google announced on Wednesday that it would introduce offline versions of its Gmail, Calendar and Google Docs services that had previously been available only online. The ability to work offline is a "a key feature for making the company's cloud-computing vision more practical," wrote CNET's Stephen Shankland. Mashable's Ben Parr has details on what you'll be able to do with the offline apps:

The HTML5 [Gmail] app looks and feels a lot like the Gmail app for tablets. That’s because Gmail Offline is based off the tablet version, which was designed to function with or without Internet access. It focuses on the key features users need to access while offline, including organizing, starring, labeling, archiving and responding to email. It won’t give you access to Gmail Labs features, but it will get the job done.

In addition to the Gmail Offline app, Google is rolling out the ability to access Calendar and Docs offline. The feature, available by clicking the gear icon at the top of the page, lets you view events and RSVP to appointments in Calendar and view documents in Docs. Offline document editing isn’t available yet, but Google promises to find a way to make it work. Part of the problem is finding a way to make sure document edits made offline don’t override edits made by online collaborators.

The move offline poses a significant challenge to Microsoft, whose several-hundred dollar Office Suite offers word processing, spreadsheets, email organizing, and other programs Google had so far offered online. Office still dominates the market for that kind of software, but as Google gains more and more of Office's features, and offers them for free, it will certainly pose a bigger challenge to the software giant. Google had previously offered some offline access to Gmail through Google Gears, but dropped that software as it worked on the HTML5 version released on Wednesday.

Note: This story has been updated from the original to include the name Google Gears