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Monday, May 31, 2004

Taking Stock of Gmail

Most people lucky enough to be test driving Gmail have probably formed their opinions about Google's radical webmail service by now. I know I have.

After my laptop died a few weeks ago, I was forced to use a series of other computers for two weeks. Because I needed to be able to access my work e-mail from multiple computers, the perfect solution was to temporarily redirect all of my work-related e-mails to my Gmail account. Thus, I was a heavy user of Gmail for a few weeks and was really able to get up close and personal with it.

Here's what I liked:

1. Threaded conversations - It takes a while to get accustomed to this different way of viewing e-mail threads, but it really makes more sense when compared to a series of disconnected e-mail replies in Outlook.

2. Labels and stars - I still haven't used these features very efficiently, but I like their functionality.

3. Lightning-fast search - Searching through mail in Yahoo Mail or Outlook can be arduously slow. Although I only have a few thousand e-mails for Gmail to pore through, it seems extremely fast and accurate.

4. Automatic checking for new mail - Finally, a webmail service gets new mail without me having to trifle with extraneous button clicking!

5. Address Autocomplete - As opposed to Yahoo's clunky feature, this one works like a charm. Just start typing a few letters, and Gmail matches a name or address you've sent mail to.

Here's what I didn't like:

1. Default settings - I couldn't figure out how to change many of the default settings that I didn't like. For example, there are no "reply" links at the top of the message. And, the brief message headers are hidden by default. You have to click "more options" to see them. I can't think of any benefit to hiding them by default since I almost always look at the "to" address, "from" address, and so on.

2. Message filters - It seemed to take more effort than necessary to create and manage filters.

3. Receiving attachments - Attachment downloading seemed a bit buggy to me. A client sent me an Excel spreadsheet, and even though there was a paper clip icon in the inbox view, I couldn't see the actual attachment in message view.

4. HTML e-mail messages - I remember reading something about this on EmailSherpa.com, I think. Most HTML e-mail newsletters get shredded by Gmail, for whatever reason. I like the fact that Gmail strips out non-standard fonts, but there should be some sort of compromise on advanced e-mail formats.

If I had to give Gmail a letter rating, I would give it a straight B. It is certainly a breath of fresh air, but Google obviously has some tune-ups to make.

Posted by Cory Kleinschmidt




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