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Let me first say that I have little doubt that I will be
switching all my mail activity to Gmail. This is email as it should
be - Google has nailed it, plain and simple. Forget Outlook, Mac's
Mail.app, whatever: Gmail is how email should be done.
I do have one major concern, and that relates to the
advertising. No, I'm not one of those who is upset about the ads;
my worry is that I haven't seen very many of them. Realistically,
providing a Gigabyte of disk space and a few billion cpu cycles
daily doesn't cost Google very much, so Gmail ads wouldn't have to
tempt me all that often to be profitable, but the ads will have to
grab me once in a while because somebody has to pay for this. I
would have thought that my email, being both voluminous and heavily
loaded with tech words and phrases, would have caused Gmail to
present me with quite a few ads, but it hasn't. I get 50 or more
legitimate emails daily, and four times that number in spam. Many
of the non-spam emails attract no Gmail ads at all. The spam, which
I'm unlikely to even look it, of course does attract ads.
For those real emails that do trigger an ad, I confess that most
of the time I didn't notice. Frankly, I'm concentrating on reading
and responding to my email. It was only when I deliberately went
back to review mail with the specific intent of seeing what kind of
ads were generated that I noticed them. Those ads are appropriate
and well targeted, so I might well click into one now and then, but
if I don't see them in normal use because my attention is on my
actual email, what good are they going to do?
Well, that's not my problem. Gmail is more than good enough that
I'd pay for it. Hear that, Google? If the ads don't generate
enough, don't can the project: it's worth paying for.
The Gmail way
Why is this so good? The problem all heavy email users have is
organizing and searching our mail. It isn't the instantaneous
reading and sending that is our major concern; it's finding records
of conversations. In traditional email applications, we do that by
dumping messages in folders, and tagging messages with labels or
color codes. Gmail has a better way.
When you are looking at a Gmail message, you have only a very
few actions available. You can tag the message as Spam, which
immediately moves it to a Spam folder. You can move it to Trash, or
you can Archive it. Finally, you can tag it with a label (or
labels) or "star it" (described later). Other than printing, or
marking it read or unread, that's about it. Nothing complicated,
and it might seem too simple, but the simplicity is the secret
here: the power comes from the deliberately limited interface.
My Email mess
Like most busy folks, my email has been a mess. I have stuff I
need to take care of ASAP, messages about shipments I need to watch
for, on-going technical conversations with clients and vendors, and
so on. I've tried to organize it all with folders and labels and
colors and it Just Does Not Work. I end up with an Inbox that is
too big, hundreds of folders and sub folders, and when I need to
find something, it takes forever and often is a frustrating game of
hide and seek.
My first day with Gmail was a refreshing relief. As always, I
had several on-going back and forth conversations with various
people on various subjects. Gmail understands conversations, so
when a new message about "xyz" arrives from Joe, I see all the
other messages related to this that Joe and I have sent back and
forth. That's automatic, with no effort on my part. If I choose, I
can tag messages with labels. These are custom defined; I started
with "To do" and "Watch for". Labels effectively become folders:
your message or conversation is now available under each label you
tagged it with. As you can tag with multiple labels, mail messages
can "appear" in more than one place.
Apple has threaded messages in
Mail.app that are very similar to Google "conversations". But those
are slow, a bit clumsy, and in my opinion, not as well implemented
as they are in Gmail.
There's one special, predefined label, the "star". This is just
a yellow star you can click on or off quickly. Starred
messages/conversations appear under the "Starred" folder. I quickly
realized that I didn't need my "To-do" label; starring is quicker
and easier, and as I attend to the task, un-starring is again
quicker than removing a label.
Actually, I'm not sure I'm going to need many labels at all
because of Gmail's Google-like searching capability. All I do with
most messages is hit Archive, confident that the message will
remain threaded into its proper conversation and that I can easily
bring it up at any time with a few key words. I don't have to
"organize"; Gmail's context searching does it for me. I suppose I
might find use for a few labels here and there, but I suspect I may
need none at all. So my actions become even more simple: report it
as spam, or reply and "star" it if appropriate, then hit Archive.
All done. Very nice feeling, that.
The only options in composing email (other than the obvious cc
and bcc) are to attach a file and check spelling. That annoys my
wife, who uses Word as her email editor and likes to bold face,
change fonts,indent paragraphs, etc. I try to explain to her that
she shouldn't be doing any of this at all, but it falls on very
stubborn ears. Her attitude is that most of the world will see her
email just as she sees it, so my protests about purity and the
evils of HTML mail are unimportant.
Unfortunately, many other folks probably share that feeling, so
Gmail will likely have to address it sooner or later.
Google support says they will be
- Automatic forwarding of your email to another account
- Plain HTML version of Gmail
- Import/export Contacts
Update: Gmail has added html formatting, pop mail capability and more.
The 1 GB Storage
Much has been made of the generous storage allowance Gmail
provides. Yes, compared to the miserly amounts some other folks
have offered, 1 GB is big news. But really: it isn't all that much.
I'll probably fill that in three years, maybe less. Yes, that's a
lot, and I could certainly stretch that out by getting rid of older
stuff that I'm unlikely to need, but I won't want to. My hope and
expectation is that Google will sell additional storage to big
Gmail users. I never know what conversational snippet I may need to
reference in the future, so I want to save it all.
Spam and Viri
I don't know what Google is using for Spam filtering. It looks
like it could be SpamAssassin or some other Bayesian filter. Like
most nowadays, it catches a lot, but also lets quite a few get in
(Gmail does not load images, so you won't be accidentally notifying
spammers that you saw their mail). The "Report Spam" button which
moves them to the Spam folder seems to imply that Gmail will be
"learning" your Spam tolerance, but I don't know how much (if at
all) Gmail will take advantage of its ability to see what other
folks mark as spam. I would think that learning from thousands of
individuals could really improve the filtering, but we'll see. One
improvement that could be made here is automatic deletion of Spam
after some period of days. Presently you have to visit the Spam
folder to delete these completely. That's really important for
those of us who are big spam magnets; I get several megabytes of
spam daily. If I didn't get rid of it, I could probably fill up my
1 GB Gmail storage in a very few months or even weeks. When the
Trash folder is empty, Gmail says " No conversations in the trash.
Who needs to delete when you have 1000 MB of storage?! ", but if
you are getting lots of spam daily, you do need to delete.
Gmail suppoprt says spam is
automatically deleted after 30 days. I'm going to let mine sit and
see what it builds up to.
There's no mention of virus scanning anywhere. I would think
that is a definite feature Gmail should offer (at extra cost, of
course). Double scanning, once by your ISP and again with a
different anti-virus vendor at your PC, increases the detection
rate and protects you more (see http://aplawrence.com/Unixart/dhantivirus.html).
Google does mention viri in their Help section, where they say
that they don't let Gmail accept executable files:
Gmail does not accept these types of files, even if they are sent in a
zipped (.zip, .tar, .tgz, .taz, .z, .gz) format. If someone tries to
send this type of message to your Gmail account, the message will be
bounced back to the sender.
That's not necessarily a good thing: from time to time, some of
us do need to send executables through mail.
That brings up another point: there's no reason to give up your
existing email addresses in most cases: just have them redirected
to your Gmail address. If Gmail does start offering virus scanning,
you might be able to take this to three levels: once at your first
ISP, once by Gmail, and finally by your local PC for any attachment
you actually open.
Gmail is still in Beta as this review is being written, but it
is spreading fast, because existing Gmail users get to invite a few
other folks in (sorry, yes, I have used up my invitations).
Update: Google has begun to loosen up. I have a few invitations
available for readers of this site.
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