Charles Johnson has a "nagging worry" about all those important messages stored in Gmail. He asked if there's a way to back them up locally to his hard drive.
Although many people are comfortable keeping data only in the cloud, I'm not one of them. I'm sure that Google backs up regularly, and keeps my data on multiple servers. But I still feel better keeping a local copy of my own.
But how do you do that?
The obvious solution is to use POP or IMAP to access your mail through a local mail client--such as Outlook. But that won't back up all the messages you've stored in Gmail over past years.
That's why I'm recommending Gmail Backup. This free program hasn't been updated in nearly three years, but it still works fine.
Once you've installed and launched Gmail Backup, you fill in a brief form and start the download. The first download can be quite slow, even if you have a fast Internet connection. It took me more than three hours to download a little more than a gigabyte. It's clear that my Internet connection wasn't the bottleneck.
Subsequent backups will be faster, of course. I strongly suggest you check the Newest emails only option to make them so.
Gmail Backup saves each message as a separate .eml file. You can open and read these files in most Microsoft clients, including Outlook Express, Windows Mail, and Windows Live Mail, but not in Outlook. Windows, by itself, can search for text inside .eml files, but it can't display these files' contents without one of these programs.
If you don't have any of these programs, I recommend the free MiTec Mail Viewer. This isn't a full mail client; it's only job is to help you find and read existing mail.
Backing up to .eml files has other drawbacks. You lose the labels that help you organize your mail in Gmail. Also, since each message is a separate file, you lose the conversation metaphor that makes Gmail so convenient.
But since you'll only need these files in an emergency, these shortcomings should do.
You might also want to locally backup the addresses and phone numbers you've saved in Gmail. For that, see Access Your Gmail Contacts Offline.