Gmail is everywhere. From innocent mail users getting a note from granny, to power users that are forging a path across the internet wastelands, Gmail is a formidable tool in every web jockey’s arsenal. But to really use this versatile set of tools to their best advantage, a little knowledge can turn the chevy into a Ferrari powerhouse.
One of the keys to understanding Gmail and its flexibility is the fact that gmail is not just one tool, but a cohesive front. It is both comprised of and ties together email, chat, online office documents, and calendars, together giving you a set of tools with which you can create a home on the web.
The cornerstone of the Gmail ensemble is, of course, gmail itself. Gmail can be a pop mail account, an email aggregator, an IMAP account, or a web driven mail interface that floats effortlessly between machines as you do the dance of hardware. Extra features are built into the core Gmail functionality to give a robust user experience.
For example, Canned Responses will give you a break in the repetitive typing department by keeping several of your favorite power phrases at mouse’s length. It’s cool to keep about twenty ways to say yes and no at your disposal, and soon a boring task becomes a fun game. You can see just how creatively you can tell them that – yes, the presentation really did stink like molded cheese.
Another nice feature is the ability to quote selected text directly. No more skating around the never ending signature confessional (Yes, it’s a witty saying – for the first 10 or so emails only) – instead you can easily clip and replay, getting to the point and generally becoming more productive in the long run.
Send and archive is another nice feature that can save mouse clicks and precious time. With just a single button you can send it and forget it. That is, until you need to go look up that email you sent really late last night where you promised to do something, but you are just not sure what it was….
At first you would think that Gmail, with its strong online presence, would be pretty useless without a web connection. And at one time you would be right. But now you can compose your messages while offline (and free of distractions), and send them when you are back on the grid. This is great for telecommuters, where a strong connection for at least part of your trip will be questionable.
While I am dragging you through some of the better features of Gmail, it might be a good time to mention that you can drag items on and off your Navbar, allowing you to build a custom environment tailored to your liking. This keeps the riffraff off the sidebar and allows you to focus on the important things, such as those vacation tickets or the football score.
Speaking of keeping the riffraff out, Gmail labels allows you to show only the labels that contain unread messages. Now, with the clever combination of proper labeling and selective hiding, you can stack the emails in your favor, or least stack them in piles of read it now, read it later, read it tomorrow, and, my personal favorite, don’t read it until asked.
If you are the type that sends a lot of tiles, then Google Labs for Gmail has a nice tidbit for you – it is a reminder that this message has no attachments. Come on, we have all done it – you spend 10 minutes crafting a clever but extremely sincere email about how wonderful and practical file X is, and then you forget to send the (expletive) file with the email. Suddenly you go from crafted email virtuoso to forgetful baboon, all with the over-anxious click of a mouse.
With the attachment reminder you could be saved from that embarrassment. At least until you start clicking automatically, at which point all bets are off. But if the attachment free email is the exception, then this little feature might be quite handy.
While you are struggling to remember to send that important file, browser plugins can make the task even easier. Dragdropupload is a popular Firefox plugin that allows you to drag practically any file lying about straight into your browser email. No more file browsing for an attachment.
Just Say It
Of course, this is the 21st century, and perhaps we should give our tired digits a little rest. The Google voice player is a great way to throw around voice emails to your distinct friends and closer enemies. However, with the latter, we suggest taking your time and speaking V-E-R-Y slowly. This not only makes them wait to download the larger file, it also forces them to listen all about your pet cat’s adventure before getting the trip agenda.
Of course, there is a time to let your fingers do the walking, and one of the best is when it comes to keyboard shortcuts. Gmail has a keyboard shortcut tool that lets you define the best combination for your work habits. Not to be outdone, even labels have special power moves for efficiency. Next time you are playing around with gmail organization… remember these handy label power moves:
- ^i inbox
- ^u unread mail
- ^b chats
- ^s spam
- ^t starred messages
- ^k trash
- ^r draft
- ^f sent mail
It isn’t just labels that have been blessed with great keyboard shortcuts – Gmail itself has some great finger savers to make things happen. These include (courtesy of Google):
|Allows you to compose a new message. <Shift> + c allows you to compose a message in a new window.|
|Puts your cursor in the search box.|
Move to newer conversation
|Opens or moves your cursor to a more recent conversation. You can hit <Enter> to expand a conversation.|
Move to older conversation
|Opens or moves your cursor to the next oldest conversation. You can hit <Enter> to expand a conversation.|
|Moves your cursor to the next message. You can hit <Enter> to expand or collapse a message. (Only applicable in ‘Conversation View.’)|
|Moves your cursor to the previous message. You can hit <Enter> to expand or collapse a message. (Only applicable in ‘Conversation View.’)|
|o or <Enter>||
|Opens your conversation. Also expands or collapses a message if you are in ‘Conversation View.’|
Return to conversation list
|Refreshes your page and returns you to the inbox, or list of conversations.|
|Archive your conversation from any view.|
|Archives the conversation, and all future messages skip the Inbox unless sent or cc’d directly to you. Learn more.|
|Automatically checks and selects a conversation so that you can archive, apply a label, or choose an action from the drop-down menu to apply to that conversation.|
Star a message or conversation
|Adds or removes a star to a message or conversation. Stars allow you to give a message or conversation a special status.|
|Marks a message as spam and removes it from your conversation list.|
|Replies to the message sender. <Shift> + r allows you to reply to a message in a new window. (Only applicable in ‘Conversation View.’)|
|Replies to all message recipients. <Shift> +a allows you to reply to all message recipients in a new window. (Only applicable in ‘Conversation View.’)|
|Forwards a message. <Shift> + f allows you to forward a message in a new window. (Only applicable in ‘Conversation View.’)|
Escape from input field
|Removes the cursor from your current input field.|
|<Ctrl> + s||
|Saves the current text as a draft when composing a message. Hold the <Ctrl> key while pressing s and make sure your cursor is in one of the text fields — either the composition pane, or any of the To, CC, BCC, or Subject fields — when using this shortcut.|
|Moves the conversation to Trash.|
|Opens the Labels menu to label a conversation.|
|Moves the conversation from the inbox to a different label, Spam or Trash.|
|<Shift> + i||
Mark as read
|Marks your message as ‘read’ and skip to the next message.|
|<Shift> + u||
Mark as unread
|Marks your message as ‘unread’ so you can go back to it later.|
Archive and previous
|Archives your conversation and moves to the previous one.|
Archive and next
|Archives your conversation and moves to the next one.|
|Undoes your previous action, if possible (works for actions with an ‘undo’ link).|
|<Shift> + n||
Update current conversation
|Updates your current conversation when there are new messages.|
Move cursor to chat search
|Moves your cursor directly to the chat search box.|
Remove from Current View*
|Automatically removes the message or conversation from your current view.From ‘Inbox,’ ‘y’ means Archive
From ‘Starred,’ ‘y’ means Unstar
From ‘Trash,’ ‘y’ means Move to inbox
From any label, ‘y’ means Remove the label
* ‘y’ has no effect if you’re in ‘Spam,’ ‘Sent,’ or ‘All Mail.’
Show more actions
|Displays the ‘More Actions’ drop-down menu.|
Show keyboard shortcuts help
|Displays the keyboard shortcuts help menu within any page you’re on.|
But the fun doesn’t stop there. You can also use special combination keys to speed up your email tasks.
|<tab> then <Enter>||
|After composing your message, use this combination to send it automatically. (Supported in Internet Explorer and Firefox, on Windows.)|
|y then o||
Archive and next
|Archives your conversation and moves to the next one.|
|g then a||
Go to ‘All Mail’
|Takes you to ‘All Mail,’ the storage site for all mail you’ve ever sent or received (and have not deleted).|
|g then s||
Go to ‘Starred’
|Takes you to all conversations you have starred.|
|g then c||
Go to ‘Contacts’
|Takes you to your Contacts list.|
|g then d||
Go to ‘Drafts’
|Takes you to all drafts you have saved.|
|g then i||
Go to ‘Inbox’
|Returns you to the inbox.|
|g then t||
Go to ‘Sent Mail’
|Takes you to all mail you’ve sent.|
|* then a||
|Selects all mail.|
|* then n||
|Deselects all mail.|
|* then r||
|Selects all mail you’ve read.|
|* then u||
|Selects all unread mail.|
|* then s||
|Selects all starred mail.|
|* then t||
|Selects all unstarred mail.|
The Gmail Ensemble
While Gmail is a great product on its own, the supporting members of the Google office suite work together in unison to empower the user. One of the best of these is the trusty Google Calendar. This handy web application keeps track of any number of events, in any number of work and personal calendars. The calendar is fully integrated with Gmail, giving you adjustable warnings of practically any type of event in your future.
Calendar is not limited to Gmail for its interactions since it can directly sync with iCal on the Mac and calendar on the iPhone for practically any number of calendars. Google even provides a sync tool to keep Microsoft Outlook up-to-date with your changing life.
Hot on the heels of Calendar, and a threat to desktop Office installations everywhere, is Google Docs. With this free service, you can create, maintain, remotely access, and interactively share word processing documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and more with ease. And while Google Docs has always been a flexible and accommodating solution, it is actively updated to provide greater ease of use and more features as time goes by. One of nice features is a rather robust online template library, which allows you to get a running start on any number of document tasks. But the real selling feature of Google docs is that you can access it from practically anywhere, from your big desktop to the computer at your local library, and even a netbook or two along the way.
As you can see, Google Gmail has taken email from the installed desktop installation and made it accessible and powerful. As handy as this is to both world traveler and homebody with multiple computers, the supporting applications gives Gmail a knockout punch capability that puts it in a class of its own.