Ultimate Guide to Google's GMail

[Last Updated: June 2, 2008]

Over the past two and a half years since their debut, Google Mail has continued to excite users by providing massive storage space and innovative features, all at no cost to the user. Born on April 1, 2004, GMail is still in beta; however, don’t let that scare you off. The GMail team has been hard at work over those 2.5 years, building what many E-mail users feel is the best web-based E-mail service currently available.

Why would I want a GMail Account? An E-mail account is an E-mail account, right? Well, GMail doesn’t exactly fit into the mold. They have many of the features you’ve come to expect from your E-mail service, but their additional features separate them from the competition. Here are a list of those features:

Grouped Messages – This is probably my favorite feature. Whenever you receive an E-mail, GMail will group it together with all related forwards and replies, allowing you to track the entire conversation together in one E-mail.

Google continues to improve this feature, recently adding two nice enhancements. You can now click Forward All to forward the entire conversation to someone. Google has also helped you avoid sending duplicate replies by adding a pop up window which lets you know if a new E-mail came in related to the conversation you are typing a reply to, so you know to update the conversation before clicking reply.

Labeling System – Instead of the folder system of traditional E-mail systems, Google offers their flexible filing system using Labels. You can label an E-mail, allowing it to work like a folder. The advantage of this method is you can add more than one label to an E-mail, where as you can only put an E-mail in one folder.

Storage Space – Google currently offers more than 2,600 MB of storage space, which was designed to help you avoid needing to constantly delete E-mails. For the average E-mail user, this could be years before you would need to go through and delete out old or unimportant E-mails.

Search – What is Google known for? Thats right, internet search. As you’d probably expect, their E-mail search function is second to none. If you know you have an old E-mail you want to view, you can easily search for it. Google will search your All Mail (Archive) tab.

GMail as Other Addresses – You can conveniently manage all your E-mail addresses from GMail. Simply go to the Account tab and enter you various E-mail addresses. Then log in to those E-mail addresses and accept the invitation. Once this is done, you can reply to any E-mails using that E-mail address in the From: section. This is particularly useful when your other E-mail addresses allow forwarding. You can then forward all your E-mail addresses to GMail, then answer them from your GMail account and your response will appear to be from that E-mail account. This is very useful for web masters and business owners.

Mail Fetcher – Similar to the previous feature, many users can find this brand new feature in their accounts tab (eventually everyone will have it). You can set it up to actually fetch your E-mail from other non-Google E-mail accounts. It works just like GMail as other addresses, but does not require E-mail forwarding from the other account. Check out this Google tutorial for How to Set Up Google Mail Fetcher.

GMail POP3 Support – If you prefer to have your E-mail loaded into your Microsoft Outlook or Mozilla Thunderbird desktop software, Google Mail has you covered there as well. Simply visit the Forwarding and POP section of GMail’s settings. You can enable POP3 here and use these instructions to finish setting up your account. While setting up your POP3, I recommend electing to archive GMail’s copy. This will allow you to have a backup copy of your E-mail in the All Mail (Archive) section of GMail for reference from any computer anywhere. Once this is done, E-mail will automatically download into your desktop E-mail software of choice.

Google Services Integration – If your a user of Google’s services, your going to love the integration GMail provides. Google Talk is currently fully integrated. If your E-mail mentions an appointment, GMail will offer to add it to your Google Calendar. There has also been some reports of Google Spreadsheets and Docs integrating with GMail recently.

Mute Conversation – Google has added a new mute conversation feature. This is to be used when a conversation seems to be never ending, which often happens when you are on a mailing list or if you’re included in an E-mail with 20+ people on it.

To see more about GMail’s look and features, I recommend checking out this GMail tour.

How do I get a GMail Account? If your looking for a GMail account, you currently need to do one of two things. Your first option is to locate a GMail user and request an invite. I currently have a few invites left, so feel free to contact me if you would like an invite to GMail. Your second option is to use your mobile phone (requires text messaging).

I Have a GMail Account. Anything Else I Need to Know? If you already have GMail, there are some nice services you need to know about:

  • Google Talk – Google’s instant messenging service can be fully integrated with GMail, and can include notifications when new E-mails are received. You can also send and receive files with Google Talk.
  • GMail Notifier – Sits on your desktop and notifies you when a new E-mail is received.
  • GMail for Mobile – Allows you to read and reply to E-mails from your mobile phone.
  • If your a Firefox or Flock user, another advantage of GMail is it can be built into your web browser. Here are some of the extensions you’ll want to choose from:
    • GMail Manager – Builds GMail into your browser and allows you to manage multiple GMail accounts at one time.
    • GMail Skins – Builds additional features into your GMail account, including adjusting the colors, allowing HTML on your outgoing E-mails, etc.
    • E-Mail Notifier Toolbar – Supports GMail, Yahoo, Hotmail, & any custom POP3 account by placing easy access to them in a toolbar.
    • Greasemonkey users may enjoy the following GMail related scripts:

What are the disadvantages of GMail? I really had to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find something to put here. Here is what I could find:

  • Doesn’t offer IMAP (only POP3)
  • Can view HTML, but can’t use it on outgoing E-mail (without GMail Skins extension assistance)

You may also want to check out a few of these useful guides:

  • Ryan Wagner

    I like Gmail’s labeling system, but there are some instances where I would like to see a folder-like structure. This script isn’t bad for that:

    But I would like to see it integrated.

  • Kyle Eslick

    Ryan – I agree! Some people have actually told me that they prefer a folder system and are sticking with Yahoo Mail because GMail doesn’t have it as an option.

    Google hasn’t added much lately, so I’m hoping they have some exciting stuff in store for us in the near future.

    Thanks for pointing to that script btw, now I can convince those people to switch to the dark side 🙂

  • I use gmail all the time. But what about the Read Receipt option. Have they added that yet?