Google Mail Review

Google Mail, GMail, is a web-based email system. I have hated web-based email systems for many, many years. That said, I am going to confess that I actually like gmail. No, I don’t love it but I do like it.

Most web mail applications are pretty much the same. You see some message titles and from addresses, you can view, delete, respond or save in another folder. You have some limited amount of storage for your messages and when you run out you need to clean up your mess.

Some are prettier, some allow you to do things to multiple message at a time and some are more configurable. But, they just don’t present anything radically different. In fact, they convinced me there really wasn’t room for anything radically different until I started using GMail.

gmail 1

Figure 1 shows a piece of a screen shot of the interface. I think that is a good place to start our discussion. On the left under the Compose link you see a list of “places” you can display. This is almost like mail boxes but, for example, Starred refers to messages where you have added a star. They could be in your Inbox or even your Spam folder. Thus, you have an added dimension for categorizing messages.

That distinction doesn’t stop there. The green box called Labels is the next piece. You can add label “yes, more than one” to any message. This means that you can then filter messages that only have a specific label.

Conversations are also automatically linked together. That is, if you have a string of messages back and forth with someone, they will appear as a single entry in your messages list with a count displayed. You can see this with the (2) in the first message.

Now comes the most interesting part. While you cannot create mailboxes and store messages in them as you might do with other mailers, Gmail encourages you to just select the message or messages and click the Archive button. When you want to retrieve a message, you can use the built-in search of select by labels. This pretty much eliminates the problem of creating mailboxes for specific types of messages and then forgetting which mailbox you might have put it in. If this isn’t enough flexibility you can also create aliases by appending a + and the alias name to your username and then use filters to change how these messaged are handled.

gmail 2

Sending messages is also easy. Figure 2 shows part of a compose screen. You can get there by clicking on the compose message link or by starting to enter text in the reply box that is automatically displayed when you are reading an existing message. If your browser is smart enough to support the sophisticated JavaScript Gmail uses, you get a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor. But, don’t worry if it isn’t Gmail figures that out and automatically gives you a perfectly usable interface to compose your message.

There are lots more features including a chat interface but this will get you started. If you hate web mail but sometimes see no alternative, I feel it is well worth a try.

Now, what does it cost? A few Google text ads. That is, you will see a minimum of one short text link per page. For example, you can see the line that starts NYT Travel across the top in Figure 1. That’s it.

That is my experience. I am interested to see what some relative Linux newbies think of it. Gmail is “by invitation” so I am prepared to give an invitation to 10 TUX readers that are interested to try it out and tell TUX what they think.

Here is how that will work. Send email to [email protected]. In that email, tell me a bit about yourself–that is, how long you have been using Linux and why you would like to play with Gmail. We will email you an invitation. Or, more accurately, we will ask Gmail to email you an invitation. In return, I ask that you write up your thoughts. They will then be used to create a follow-up article about your experiences.