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We’ve all got email addresses, most of us more than one, and although the one that is associated with our Internet service provider is almost certainly the main one we use it never hurts to have a back up or two in case of connectivity problems. Up until now the big hitters in the free web based email business have been Hotmail and Yahoo, but now there’s a new kid on the block, and it is from the creators of the most used search engine on the net – Google. But why would you need yet another email address? Well, Gmail is a little different from the other web based email clients, as I will try to explain.
• So what’s Gmail all about then? •
Well, as the good folk of Gmail themselves say “Email is supposed to be a productivity tool. So why spend time filing messages, then later trying to remember where you put them? And why delete important mail just to stay within some arbitrary storage limit?” And who could argue with that? Gmail offer an amazing 2086MB of storage with the sole purpose that you do not throw away, sort or archive your incoming email but simply store it en bulk and then search for it with an adaptation of the famous Google search engine. Phrases are simply typed into the search field and any emails containing the word or phrase are bought up for inspection. Better still you can search for the name or email address of the person who sent the email to you and you can search just the emails received in the last twenty four hours or since you started using Gmail if you prefer.
• Signing Up •
At the time of writing (March 2005) Gmail is only available by invitation or referral, this is because officially the whole system is still in beta test mode. However, Gmail are issuing a lot more invites to members over the past couple of weeks, I myself have close to fifty of them. If you are lucky enough to receive an invite you will be sent a link
which when clicked on will take you to the “create a Google account” page. A standard set of fields need to be filled in including name, password and security question and answer. Also of course you need to choose a desired login name which will be prefixed with @gmail.com to become your Gmail address. The bonus with Gmail not being widely available at the moment is that there are still good Gmail addresses to be had. Once you have chosen your Gmail name a quick browse of the terms and conditions and agreeing to them takes you to a congratulations page that offers a few hints, tips and ideas on how to use Gmail effectively.
• Sending and receiving Gmail •
Emails are sent and received with Gmail in pretty much the same way as all others, signing into your account takes you to your inbox which will show you any email received. Simply clicking on the email opens it for reading. When you are finished reading an email you can archive it or if it is a special email you can add it to a label (similar to a folder) for easier searching. Composing an email is also simple with a single click on the “Compose Mail” link taking you to a fairly standard looking blank email; attachments up to 10MB can also be added.
• Key features •
• Email Grouping Gmail has a clever little innovation of grouping emails from the same contact as well as any replies you have sent so that you can view each email and reply like a conversation. This keeps emails in context and proves an invaluable one stop function to read all emails sent and received from any one person.
• Spam Protection A “Sophisticated Spam Filter” sits at the heart of the Gmail system and in the time I have been using the system it has flagged two emails as Spam correctly. If any email slips past the filter there is a “Report Spam” button which removes the offending email and informs Gmail that a spam email has got past their filter.
• POP access and Email forwarding You can also access your Gmail Emails in a POP3 email browser which basically means that you can read your Gmail emails using programs like MS Outlook Express. Also there is the option to have Gmail Emails forwarded automatically to another of your email addresses for easier synchronisation of multiple email accounts.
• Virus Protection Viruses are a massive problem with emails so Gmail have decided that executable files cannot be sent or received (According to Gmail “Most computer viruses are contained in executable files”)
• No Pop up adverts, just unobtrusive relevant ones Computers automatically scan Emails for keywords and then place relevant adverts to the side of the Gmail page. Gmails are not being read by humans so there is no real security or privacy issue as such. There are no pop up adverts and no adverts will appear in the body of any emails.
• Accessible with most Internet Browsers Gmail supports virtually all browsers. Favourites like Microsoft’s Internet Explorer are joined by up and coming Mozilla and the increasingly popular Firefox and Netscape. Safari is also supported so Mac users need not feel left out.
• Import Contacts To save the time and effort associated with filling in a new address book or contacts list you can simply import your present one from Hotmail, Yahoo and others. It takes a bit of understanding to do this but full instructions are given to make the task pain free.
• Keyboard Shortcuts Keyboard shortcuts in Gmail make composing and reading emails even easier. A full table is given on the Gmail help pages with each shortcut explained so that it will soon become second nature to use the relevant keys for a particular task.
• Gmail Notifier The Gmail Notifier needs to be downloaded independently but is a must have utility in my mind. It sits in your system tray and checks your Gmail account every two minutes, when it detects a new email it raises a small flag above the system tray giving you information on who the new email is from as well as the fist few words of text.
• My personal Opinion •
I have a number of email addresses, mainly so that I can use applications like MSN and Yahoo Instant Messenger, but I have never been keen on the way they work. Gmail is an all together different experience though. The look and feel of the site is crisp and competent with the Google search feature a real boon in searching for any word, phrase or person in the blink of an eye. The layout is simple and very much designed for ease of use with tags clearly labelled and adverts placed to the side of the screen so that they are non obtrusive. The Spam filter works well with three porn and medication emails being tagged as spam and delivered straight to my spam folder. The Gmail Notifier is an amazing add on to download, especially if you are connected to the internet via broadband – it simply tells you who the email is from and the first few lines of text so you can rush to your inbox should it be that long awaited and important email. When sending Gmails they arrive without delay. One small negative point in my mind is the fact that you can only attach files up to 10 MB in size, with the advent of broadband connections this is not a very high limit in my opinion with AOL offering 15 MB and Hotmail matching Gmails numbers. If Gmail really wanted to become kings of the free web based email market doubling the size of attachments to 20 MB would have the competition reeling. Because of the attachment size limit and the fact that I cannot import my AOL contacts as yet I knock a star off the rating, but I still award Gmail four stars out of five and recommend it.
***If anybody would like a Gmail invitation please leave a message in my PGB and I will put the link in your PGB***