Here's why I'm a Gmail convert: for the first time since I started using e-mail nearly 20 years ago, I can keep my in-box tidy.
A month ago, I switched my personal e-mail from Yahoo Mail, with which I've been generally happy. What attracted me to Gmail was a number of specific Gmail features, but what I've come to appreciate is the big picture: a new way to look at the task of e-mail.
The old paradigm follows the metaphor of a paper-pushing office job with an in-box, trash can, and filing cabinet.
Gmail brings that paper pushing into the computer age. Most messages I care about are already organized with labels automatically as they arrive. I still must read and reply if necessary, but after that I just plop messages into a giant archive with no pesky manual filing. They can be retrieved easily via search or labels.
The result: my Gmail in-box has 14 messages in it, and I've had no trouble thus far keeping it in that neighborhood. I wouldn't say it's life-changing, but it's an improvement.
Here's one measure of its user interface success: several times a day, I miss Gmail features absent from my work e-mail, which uses Microsoft Outlook connected to an Exchange server. That Gmail accomplishment is notable given that its interface uses a relatively primitive Web-based foundation, while Outlook gets all the computing horsepower and interface richness of a Windows PC.
Google's philosophy with Gmail is to aim for the needs of power users. That might sound like foolishly overlooking the much larger mainstream market. But I think it's smart, because given the increasing importance of Internet communications, an ordinary user tomorrow will face the same challenges as a power user today.
Despite my overall satisfaction, though, the advantages I found in Gmail made its deficiencies all the more glaring. And the transition from Yahoo was extremely unpleasant. Here are some details for those of you thinking of taking the plunge.
The three Gmail features that wooed me Three Gmail features got me to make the move, and all three proved just as desirable as I anticipated.
The first feature is labels. Yahoo Mail, like Outlook, Thunderbird, Eudora, and every other e-mail client I've used, requires me to sort keeper e-mail into folders. Many times, though, I've been bothered by folders' fundamental organizational limit: you can put a message in only one folder. So with a message from my old roommate about his new camera, do I put that into the folder for him or the one for photography? And a year later, when I want to retrieve it, where should I look?
With Gmail, you can have multiple labels on a particular e-mail--one for both "family" and "wife," for example, not to mention "money," "travel," "tech support," and various other categories I use often. By color-coding labels, various categories are easily found in my in-box, and clicking a label shows all mails that use it.
Yahoo Mail made major progress around this problem by finally fixing its previously ineffectual search ability, but I still like labels a lot better.
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