It’s been a while since Gmail came on the scene and changed web based email. And although the product still resembles the original in many ways, there have been a lot of improvements over the years.
Some of these improvements have made their way to the default client (Tasks for one), but many others still reside under the protection of the Labs moniker. But even though users are told that they use the Labs features at their own risk, many of these have been used by millions and have every appearance of stability.
Here’s a list of the Labs features that can help you make the most of one of the best email clients ever created.
Gmail on the Desktop
First off, many people still prefer the speed and power of a desktop client. If that’s the case, then you can still use Gmail as the heart of your email usage and access your messages via the POP or IMAP protocols.
Advanced IMAP Controls
My recommendation is to use the IMAP option. And if you do, then the Advanced IMAP Controls lab feature is a must. Due to the way various mail clients handle IMAP differently — Gmail chief among them — there can be some quirky behaviour using IMAP. This lab feature gives you the control to make your IMAP configuration work the way you want.
OS X users take note: be sure to check out this post from Joe Kissel for an excellent analysis of what’s going on behind the scenes and how to set up Gmail IMAP correctly on your Mac.
Any good knowledge/web worker knows that time is of the essence. We should always be examing how we can do things faster. This is so true when it comes to handling the large amounts of email we have to deal with.
Use the following labs features to be a speedy Gmail ninja.
Mark As Read Button
If you consistently need to mark a large number of email as read, use this lab. Then, rather than being buried a ways down the dropdown menu, the ‘mark as read’ option has its own button on the message toolbar.
For remote web workers or people who travel often, the Offline feature will be handy. Rather than be forced to wait until your next connection, you can reply and compose new messages wherever you are.
Update: our readers are sharp. I goofed on this one — rather than let you access multiple accounts at once, this feature allows you to view multiple ‘lists’ of email in the same inbox. One for a label, one for your inbox, one for your starred items … you get the picture.
Thanks for pointing out the mistake Chelsea!
One advantage I appreciate about a desktop client is being able to access all of my accounts at the same time. But if you’re too in love with the web interface, use the Multiple Inboxes feature to get the same functionality.
If there are a few web locations that you need to access frequently when working with your email, give this feature a try. It simply inserts another menu on the Gmail sidebar. You can add a number of links to web sites or even specific messages within Gmail.
One aspect of my email sessions is responding to the same requests or questions over and over. It’s essential to find some way to ensure you are not typing yourself all the way to carpal tunnel syndrome.
Don’t be repetitive when you can use a tool like the Canned Responses feature.
Quote Selected Text
One habit I’ve formed is to only include the portion of the email I’m referring to in a reply. Goodbye 3 paragraph signatures …
But cutting out this bit and that can be a tedious, time consuming process. Use the Quote Selected text feature to cut the process to down a a couple of seconds.
Custom Keyboard Shortcuts
Whatever tool you use, learning the keyboard shortcuts should be a high priority. Gmail is no exception. Use this feature to configure the shortcuts to your liking.
Navbar Drag and Drop
One aspect of using a lot of the labs features is that your sidebar can get crowded. Use the Navbar drag and drop option to ensure that the order of the items in your sidebar reflects your needs.
Send and Archive
For the longest time I spent a lot of time archiving my messages in Gmail after sending them. The Send and Archive feature is a great way to cut that process in half.
Hide Read Labels
For notebook users, screen real estate is always an issue. And if you get a lot of email, your list of labels can get pretty long. Use this feature to only display labels that contain unread messages.
If you need to retrieve an unread message in a hidden label, use the keyboard shortcuts you learned from above, or use the more option in the Label menu.
One nice thing about using Google apps, is that they play really well together. And with the focus to move into the enterprise, Google’s ‘main’ — Gmail, Calendar, and Docs — all fit together nicely.
Google Calendar Gadget
Use the Calendar Gadget feature from the Labs to view and access your calendar in the Gmail sidebar.
Google Docs gadget
And the same goes for your Google Docs.
Google Voice Player
A newer entry that is still not available for many of us, the Google Voice Player is a nice way to access your voicemails from the same location as your emails.
Hold the Embarrassment, Please
There are those moments when we make ourselves look silly with the use of email. But the good folks at Google have come up with a few ways to save ourselves some embarrassment.
There is nothing worse than referring to an attached file — and then forgetting to attach it. This is one feature that has saved my face many times. It scans your message for language that indicates you intended to attach a file.
If you hit send and there is no file attached, you get a friendly reminder. Very nice.
Just like the spoken word, there are those times when an email we crafted should never be sent. Never let anger or inebriation get the best of you — enable the Undo Send feature and give yourself a bit of a safety net.
Back to Beta
Some of us really fear change. It can feel a little weird not seeing the beta label on the Gmail logo. Bring it back with this humorous feature.
How About You?
Do you have any other lab features that have found a warm place in your heart? Share with the rest of us in the comments.