If you have a Gmail account — which seems like everyone these days — you can now (or will soon be able to) access it offline, bringing Google one step closer to cloud-computing domination.

This is what several technology experts are saying is a challenge to Microsoft’s Office Suite. As CNET’s Stephen Shankland wrote back in February:

Google is betting on a future with ubiquitous, affordable, wireless, high-speed Internet access. That may be smart in the long run, but last week that philosophy drove me straight back into the arms of Microsoft.

But Google’s announcement yesterday that several of its applications can go offline will shake things up. Chrome users can install offline-access applications through the Chrome Web Store and start using Gmail, Google Docs and other Google applications offline right away. Non-Chrome users will eventually have this capability available to them. PC World has the details:

Once installed, these offline applications will create an icon in the Chrome browser interface for launching them when users aren’t online. The Gmail application will have its own user interface separate from the Gmail web interface, while the Docs and Calendar applications will trigger their web application’s interface and work in the background.

In all three cases, users will get access to a subset of the web applications’ features. For example, in Docs it will be possible to view documents and spreadsheets, but not yet edit those documents. In Calendar, users will be able to view events and RSVP to appointments.

Yesterday, CNET reported Rajen Sheth, a Google group product manager, as saying, “This is the first step. We wanted to get something that meets core needs of users and then iterate.”

Previously, Google offered offline Gmail through technology called Gears, but it discontinued that application for Chrome in May 2011 to move forward with its new offline capability.