An Examination of Google's Gmail
by Richard Johnson, Consumer Advocate and founder of NotBarter.com
Updated August 13, 2011
 
Gmail is Google's email service. It features lightning-quick message retrieval and superior spam filtering.
 
When Gmail launched in 2004, its chief draw was what was then promoted as its huge storage, said to eliminate the need to delete messages. Compared to the competition, that storage was then indeed huge--a full gigabyte. Now it's grown past 6 gb, and is still growing--but it's been outstripped by the unlimited mail storage offered by YahooWindows Live Hotmail, and AOL. Google will increase your storage further, on a paid basis. The chances of your actually needing more than a gigabyte or so, however, are remote.
 
Gmail touts its unique labeling system, which replaces other email services' folders (for filing incoming messages); its "conversation" grouping of messages; and its lack of banner ads or pop-ups. These features may or may not justify using Gmail.
  • The value of labels is overblown. To label incoming messages is time-consuming and on the whole not particularly helpful. Unlabeled messages may be retrieved easily either from the "Search Mail" button or with Gmail's advanced search, accessible via "Show search options". (Both the "Search Mail" button and the "Show search options" link are on the main window, at the top. "Show search options" is in reduced type, at the right.)

  • Conversation view is available in Microsoft email programs, including Outlook.

  • Ads in Gmail are minimal. They're completely gone if you opt for Basic HTML View, but you'll lose some Gmail features. You won't in any case find ads in messages received from a Gmail user. Gmail users in Standard View may themselves see very inconspicuous ads (or may not notice any ads at all).
After you've dealt with an incoming Gmail message, you have three choices: you can archive it or delete it (each with the respective button on top) or you can just let it sit in the inbox. For most users, archiving is the way to go. Deleting messages forces you to take the time to determine which messages should stay and which should go--and you could always delete a message you really want to keep. Keeping the message in the inbox is the fastest option (since you do nothing), but it will clutter up your inbox with messages that need no further action.
 
Gmail users can both receive and send HTML mail. Some images are excluded from incoming mail, but you can choose to see those images once a message is opened, either for that message only or for all messages from that sender. Choosing Basic HTML instead of Standard View will speed loading and suppress ads, but will entail the loss of some features. (More here.) Basic HTML will work when Standard View won't.
 
Sending as if from another domain. A very handy feature is the ability to send Gmail mail as if coming from another address--like one with your own domain, if you have such.
 
You can also forward incoming mail to that other address or a different one, with or without a copy at the Gmail website. And you can specify the address to which replies to your messages will be sent. All these choices are available under Settings (at the top of any page).
 
Spam control. Gmail uses an excellent Bayesian filtering system, that misses very little spam but yields almost no false positives. Gmail also allows you to create your own filters as "rules", and you can stop Gmail from diverting to its spam folder legitimate mail by adding the sender to your contacts list. (You can do so either directly or by marking a "Spam" message "Not spam.") At this writing Gmail still follows a quirky protocol under which bounce messages are diverted to the spam folder.
 
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Gmail is not for everyone. You should not switch to Gmail
  • if you find Web-based email just too slow,
  • if you prefer to see bounced messages in your inbox and don't wish to have to check for them in Gmail's spam folder,
  • if you want to be able to retrieve messages individually and not part of a "conversation" (note that other email apps may offer conversation view as an option),
  • if you need good-quality transmittal of formatted messages (Gmail falls down here), or
  • if you're happy with what you have and don't want to bother. (But note that you may not have to notify folks of your new Gmail address. See "Sending as if from another domain" [both paragraphs], above.)
You should consider switching to Gmail
  • if you'd rather not fuss with setting up folders for messages that you've read and want to keep, but still want to be able to retrieve such messages speedily,
  • if you'd like to see snippets of unopened messages without the security concerns inherent in the use of a "preview pane",
  • if you want to avoid the dangers of opening attachments but still be able to view them,
  • if you want to be able to see at a glance which messages were sent just to you, which were sent to multiple recipients, and which were sent to a mailing list, or
  • if you find your present email filtering scheme too complicated, or not as effective as Gmail's.
    Moreover, if you use another Web-based email service like Yahoo Mail or Hotmail, you should consider switching to Gmail
    • if you're fed up with the banner ads or popups you encounter, or
    • if you don't want your correspondents to see ads on your messages.
    And if you use a disk-based system like Outlook or Outlook Express, you should consider switching to Gmail
    • if you want to save all your emails online automatically, to be available even if your hard disk should crash,
    • if you want to email yourself important files for free online backup, or
    • if you presently use Outlook Express and want more robust spam protection.
    For an impressive collection of Gmail tips, see http://gmailtips.com
     
     

    Richard Johnson is a writer and editor, and founder of NotBarter.com, a 30-year-old membership organization. The author provides Gmail support at no charge to members.
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