Gmail: Not Behind, Just Going in a Different Direction

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.

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