If you want to see the latest developments in the world of email you only have to look at Google’s free Gmail service. Their teams of developers are rolling all sorts of interesting things.
Here’s some of the more interesting additions to Gmail. Even if you don’t have Gmail, it’s worth seeing what might filter down to your Inbox in the months and years ahead.
@ Pictures with your messages
Of course you can attach images to emails but now Gmail lets you link a picture of a person you correspond with to the entry in your Gmail contact list.
You can do that in some email programs like Outlook 2003 but Gmail makes adding images to contacts much easier.
Each Gmail user can suggest an image of themselves to use in other people’s contact list. This makes it a lot easier for people to add an image to your entry in their contact list, all they have to do is accept your suggested image.
Of course you don’t have to accept the suggestion. You can add your own or leave it blank.
Some people get creative with the images and it’s not always a standard ‘head and shoulders’ shot. The suggested photo for one of my friends is his beloved dog! Others change it according to their mood (smiling, sad, brandishing a knife etc).
@ Gmail Mobile
Any mobile phone or PDA with internet access can directly access a Gmail account. Going to http://m.gmail.com will let you login to a tiny formatted version of your account.
As we’ve mentioned in the past, almost any email account (including Gmail) can be accessed on a mobile device via free services like mail2web.com but the native Gmail service gives you a better service with options like the ability to open attachments and call people listed in your Gmail contacts.
@ View Attachments
Google’s main search has the ability to view PDF and other documents found in web searches in a web page version. This lets you quickly look over the document without bothering to download the entire file and fire up the applicable program (Word, Acrobat Reader).
Now you can do the same thing with Gmail attachments. A ‘View as HTML’ option is available for MS Office, OpenOffice and PDF attachments. This works on standard computers as well as mobile devices.
Canny people can use this feature to look at document that their computer doesn’t support. Simply email it to yourself at your Gmail account then view the attachment there.
Most people are able to view MS Office documents (even if you don’t have Office there’s WordPad for Word documents and the free Microsoft Office document viewers). Acrobat Reader is pretty much an essential element of any computer setup. However the OpenOffice document formats aren’t that well supported (yet).
@ Chat with sound
Google Talk has already been integrated into Gmail so you can instant message in the same browser window. This is especially useful if you’re traveling because you don’t have to worry about having the right IM software installed.
The chat feature now has a ‘ping’ sound to alert you to a new IM message.
@ Full Delete
Like most email programs, Gmail doesn’t really delete a message when you choose that option. Instead it’s moved to the ‘Archive’ folder for later deletion, similar to the Deleted Items folder in Outlook.
Now you can choose to completely delete a message you’re absolutely sure you don’t want to see again. Since available space for emails is rarely a problem for Gmail users (2.7GB of space and rising) it’s prudent to put messages in the Archive just in case you make a mistake.
Outlook users have the same ‘permanent delete’ option by choosing Shift + Delete instead of just Delete (which moves the message to the Deleted Items folder). The same key combo also works in Windows where Shift+Delete will totally delete a file and not move it to the Recycle Bin.
@ Contextual Shortcuts
Gmail will look at your message and try to work out some useful shortcuts from the contents of the message. Any addresses will be detected and the shortcuts on the side will have a link to a map from Google Maps.
Package tracking numbers are linked to the web page that lets you check the status of a parcel. Google doesn’t say which courier companies are supported. UPS tracking is used in their example and it’s reasonable to assume that Fedex is also supported.
@ Contact Groups
A long standing feature from Outlook is now available in Gmail. Contacts can be grouped in various ways so you can send a message to everyone in that group without selecting them individually each time.
@ Virus Scanning
Gmail now scans all incoming and outgoing email attachments for viruses. If a nastie is detected in a received message they’ll try to remove the virus from the file so you can still access it.
It’s your responsibility to provide clean outgoing attachments and if an infected attachment is detected you’ll be prompted to fix it.
@ Export contacts
One gripe about Gmail was that the contact list could not be exported for backup or other purposes.
You can copy all your Gmail to other storage in various ways but the contacts list could not be copied until now.
@ Customized FROM address
Gmail will let you reply to messages using a different FROM address than the usual @gmail.com address.
This only works for replying to messages and not newly composed messages.
It works when you redirect messages from another account to Gmail. For example messages addressed to email@example.com can be re-directed to a Gmail account. When Fred replies to one of those messages in Gmail the ‘From’ address can be firstname.lastname@example.org and not Gmail.
This gives you the advantages of using Gmail without locking into a @Gmail.com address. Details on the Gmail help site.
@ Gmail for entire domains
Quietly Google has been trialing a service to use Gmail, Google Calendar and Talk across an entire domain. For example all mail to the domain FredDagg.com could be hosted and managed via a Gmail like interface including mail accounts and aliases.
Google is talking about this as a service for organizations and certainly it could be good for small businesses, non-profits and clubs. But there’s no reason why families or heavy individual users could not consider this option. All you need is your own domain name.
https://www.google.com/hosted/ has some details and, if you own a domain you can apply to join the trial.
Presumably Google will charge for this service when it goes fully public but no announcements have been made.
We’ve been talking about email accounts, aliases and other topics in recent issues of Email Essentials and will develop those themes in upcoming issues.
Google’s official list of ‘new’ features is here – though some of the list items have been around for some time.
@ Gmail Modest Proposals
What Gmail really needs is a fully synced email client which lets you work on your email and contacts while offline. Most email programs can work with Gmail through its POP mail support.
There’s a real market for some PIM (Personal Information Management) software that also replicates Contacts and even Google Calendar for backup and offline use. Google probably doesn’t want to do it themselves but an enterprising group of developers could exploit this niche. A link to Gmail and Google Calendar would give a real boost of interest and support for open source projects like Chandler.
An add-in to sync Google services with Outlook could annoy both Google and Microsoft at the same time!