Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Gmail "A Google approach to email " - A Review

Some of my friends got an invitation and created their Gmail accounts. After using them for a while, they inturn got an invitation to invite other friends. Some of them asked me whether I want one. I decided to test Gmail and then they sent me an invite for Gmail which enables you to create an email account in Gmail. This is because Gmail does not have anything called "signup" since Gmail is still in beta stage.

Gmail user interface is very simple. I hardly found any popup advertisements until i logged out. After using it for some days I was quite impressed by its features especially the feature which allows you to use the keyboard as a shortcut. It was like using an email client like Thunderbird/Outlook Express.

The user interface for Gmail is based on Javascript with cookies enabled. As of now, it will run on certain browsers namely Microsoft IE 5.5/6.0 (Windows) ,Mozilla 1.4 and newer (Windows, Macintosh, Linux) Mozilla Firefox 0.8/1.0 (Windows,Macintosh, Linux)

However I tried it with only Mozilla Firefox which is the recommended browser to access Gmail. The loading of the User Interface takes very little time.Its really fast and I got impressed by the auto address completion feature which fills up the email address in the To,Cc,Bcc boxes by giving a drop down list of the email addresses from your contact list.This is the first time I am seeing such a feature in a web based email.

One of the important feature is "Conversation view". By default all the emails are threaded and neatly arranged. You will appreciate it if you subscribe to lot of mailing lists.

And now comes the storage aspect Gmail provides you with 1GB of storage space. What more can you expect ?

The Concept of "Folders" is not available in Gmail .All the mails are stored under "All Mail" including the sent mail. Whenever you want to retrieve a particular mail, just type some keyword in the "Search Mail" box, -- your mails appear . I guess the searching mechanism does not need any explanation since its Google's.

Instead of folders, Gmail uses a concept called "Label" . When you are reading any conversation from that mailing list, just assign appropriate label to it by clicking a button. The entire conversation will be marked with that label. Any new mails under the same conversation will be automatically visible under that label.

As of now, Gmail has some restrictions in what you send/receive. The maximum size of the outgoing mail should be 10MB. For security reasons, any kind of executable files are not allowed in the attachment. (.exe) files are not allowed as attachment even if it is zipped in the following formats, tar.gz., tgz, .gz etc. In such a case, the mail won't be sent or bounced to the sender. Since most of the viruses spread through executable files, this measure will try to reduce the spread of email viruses through Gmail.

Normally when you send an email to a mailing list, usually you will also receive a copy of it if you have subscribed to that mailing list. However in Gmail, you won't receive it since it is already stored in "Sent Mail". Its to avoid cluttering of the inbox with multiple copies of the same mail. If you are able to see your sent mail in the sent mail list it means that the mail has been successfully delivered. If not, obviously you will receive a "Mail delivery notification for failed delivery".
Spam marking is there. The feature I liked most is it keyboard shortcut like:

c for compose
/ for search
k move to new conversation
j move to older conversation
p move to previous message in a conversation
n move to next message in a conversation
o to open the message/conversation (from the index page)
u return to inbox or conversation list
r reply
a reply all
f forward
TAB+Enter to send the message
! mark a message as spam
and some more. For a detailed list check:
http://gmail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=6594&topic=-1


Gmail by default uses Unicode UTF-8 encoding and hence you can cut and paste the UTF-8 encoded text.

Since Gmail is still in beta stages, lot of testing is done to improve the features and fix as many bugs so it is not open to the public as yet. i.e. You can't signup for a gmail account by logging to http://gmail.google.com. To get a Gmail invite a someone who has a Gmail account can send you an invitation to create an account. Based on availability of new storage space and other resources, Gmail is allotting few invitations to the existing Gmail users so that they can invite their friends who will be interested in beta testing. If you ever get any invitation, by all means accept it, and enjoy the great Gmail features.

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