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Summary:

Has Gmail been left behind? PC Magazine thinks so. From their review covering new web email introductions from AOL, Microsoft, and Yahoo!: All of the companies… have also made major changes to their interfaces, in light of Gmail’s popularity. ‘Integration’ is key, with companies seamlessly blending […]

Has Gmail been left behind? PC Magazine thinks so. From their review covering new web email introductions from AOL, Microsoft, and Yahoo!:

All of the companies… have also made major changes to their interfaces, in light of Gmail’s popularity. ‘Integration’ is key, with companies seamlessly blending together once disparate features, in the manner that Google pioneered with apps like Gmail, Google Calendar, and Gmail Chat. The other huge change to Webmail interfaces is the fact that they are embracing AJAX’s drag-and-drop capabilities. This is a decidedly different approach than Gmail, one that makes the user experience similar to desktop-based apps like Outlook.

Where does this all leave us, as consumers? Well, we’re lucky enough to have three great, new, totally reinvented (not to mention free) Webmail services at our disposal. Gmail, on the other hand, which timidly emerged from beta this February after nearly four years spent in that protective cocoon, has been left behind.

But desktop email does not represent the best or only paradigm for handling email. Just because you can now make an Ajax-based web client that feels like Outlook doesn’t mean that you should.

In the in-depth review of Yahoo!’s bloated beta client, PC Mag describes why they don’t like Gmail:

Gmail, beta for life (or at least three years so far), is beloved by millions (including me), and still has cachet though it lacks AJAX features, isn’t easy to use, and doesn’t have a sensible sorting ability.

Let’s take these three criticisms one by one. First, Gmail uses asynchronous HTTP requests to update the display without a new page load; that is the essence of Ajax, not drag and drop. Drag and drop alone doesn’t qualify as Ajax — it’s just DHTML. Second, Gmail can be very easy to use, once you understand the paradigm, know how to search using labels, and learn the keyboard shortcuts. Third, it does lack a sorting capability, and that might be a problem for those who use sort to search or to cluster emails for deletion, but you can use search by labels as a poor-emailer’s alternative.

Many Gmail fans find it a welcome change from Outlook-style mail. Gmail’s search-oriented interface, labels rather than folders, and keyboard shortcuts make it a pleasure to interact with, if it suits your digital organizational style. PC Mag downgrades GMail for not providing drag and drop interaction — but for peak productivity, you should have your fingers on the keyboard, not the mouse.

That’s not to say Gmail doesn’t need a few more features. It’s not going to suit everyone’s email client needs. But for many people, it represents a welcome step in a different direction from desktop email.

  1. Anne,

    This is a great critique of the PC Magazine article. Your post’s title even sums up the article really great. Keep up the wonderful work.

    Andrew

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  2. Thanks, Andrew! Struggled a bit on the headline for that, so glad to know it provided a useful summary.

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  3. Agreed, and well written! I recently switched back to Gmail, now using their hosted version. I switched from IMAP, mostly because I love the mobile interface, and the search works flawlessly for me.

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  4. Also in complete agreement with this post.

    I much prefer Gmail’s stripped down interface, it’s fast, even on older computers, plus if I wanted to use Outlook, that’s what I’d use.

    Plus, the bonus of being able to access other Google apps I use (Reader, Blogger, Calender) right from my inbox. Oh, and not having ads appear in my sig without having to pay extra is nice too.

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  5. Right on the money, Anne. I would also point out how the online community has embraced and extended Gmail – look at how many GreaseMonkey scripts there are for Gmail vs Yahoo! mail for instance.

    Gmail is a poweruser’s tool – it’s really an apples to oranges comparison.

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  6. well done!

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  7. I too was disappointed by PC Mag’s article. Thanks to you, I don’t have to come up with a response. You kind of nailed it. I particularly appreciated your clarification of what AJAX is for and that the keyboard is where it’s at. That part of PC Mag’s article really did just offend me.

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  8. I agree – Gmail uses a different model, and that takes getting used to if you like the desktop model. But it’s much more powerful. The tag-and-archive approach instead of filing everything in folders is also hard to adjust to for many people, as is the threaded conversations approach. But both are better than the traditional approaches, IMO, once you get used to them.

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  9. [...] at Web Worker Daily there is a pretty solid rebuttal to PC Mag’s claim. The author at WWD points out that Gmail [...]

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  10. Chris: thanks for bringing up the customizability/extensibility of Gmail via Greasemonkey scripts. That was also in the back of my mind as I read the PC Mag article. It’s not for everyone, because not everyone wants to download and install or even write their own scripts. But for those who do, it’s really cool and useful.

    Jay: the conflation of Ajax with drag and drop was a bit strange. While I know some people think Ajax is only about dynamic effects I was surprised that PC Magazine promoted that idea.

    Leo: I am so used to the threaded conversations approach that I forgot even to mention it, but it’s another point in Gmail’s favor, for those who like such an approach.

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