Gmail gets webmail service right
Alan Zisman (c) 2006 First published in Business
October 10-16, 2006; issue 885
High Tech Office
Most readers of this column bounce between several computers: one at
work, another at home; a desktop and a laptop; one at a hotel business
centre when you didn’t bring the laptop.
This summer, I did all that and then some. I added three versions of
Linux and a prerelease of Windows Vista into my usual mix of Windows XP
and Mac OS X systems. While I could access my documents over the
network, keeping e-mail and calendar information in synch might have
proved more of a challenge.
In the past, when on a brief trip, I made use of my ISP’s webmail
service, which gave me access to my e-mail from any web browser. But
that service is designed for limited, light use. With limits of 100 MB
of storage and 3,000 total messages, it would fill up with a week or
Instead, I relied on Google
Gmail service. When Google first announced this service two years ago,
the promised one gigabyte of free e-mail storage for each user created
a stir and forced competitors like Yahoo
Mail and Hotmail
to increase what they offered their users. Since then, Gmail’s
storage limits have continued to grow; it continues to outpace the
competition, promising each user 2,768 MB (2.7 GB) of message space.
The large amount of storage was welcome, but if you’re used to
more traditional webmail services or e-mail software like Outlook or
Eudora, Gmail may seem quirky. Initially, for instance, the option to
delete messages was tucked out of sight. Apparently, Google felt that
having lots of storage meant no one should ever need to delete
anything. More recently a Delete button has appeared next to a Report
There’s no option to create folders or mailboxes to organize mail
messages. Instead, users can create labels and apply them to messages.
Search experts Google makes it easy to search messages by creator or
content, which arguably is more convenient than organizing by folder.
A very nice feature: messages group themselves by message subject.
opening a reply from, say, Business
, shows the multiple messages of that online conversation
all neatly stacked together.
Also nice: Gmail’s contact list can import (and export) contacts
in the widely used CSV (comma separated values) format, which let me
copy my stored 700 names and addresses online. And when composing a
message, I rarely need to access that contact list: start to type a
first name and up pops up a list of everyone I know (or my Inbox) with
that name. Less nice: the contacts are listed alphabetically by first
name; it’s faster to type in a search box than scroll my long
As part of its expanding set of web-based applications, Google has
recently added a handy online calendar service.
Gmail is ad-supported. Like Google’s search results, received
e-mail (but not sent messages) display with a set of relatively
unobtrusive ads along the side. Some may feel uneasy about having
Google host their e-mail, contact list or calendar. I’m perhaps
more trusting. In any event, I’ve gotten used to these
services’ quirks and am comfortable relying on them full-time to
replace applications residing on a single computer’s hard drive.
Like many Google services, Gmail seems to be in permanent beta-testing
status. Officially it is not open to the public. Instead, wanna-be
users need to be “invited” by a current user. I can invite
about 100 people so drop me a line if you want to give it a try.
Alternatively, Google competitor Yahoo has a new beta-version of its
free webmail service that offers an interface much more like
traditional e-mail software, complete with drag and drop of messages
into user-customized mailboxes. And it’s open for anyone to join.