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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 7 Issue 6
June 2013
9 Reasons I Don't Like Gmail.com

The Gmail website (www.gmail.com) is one of the cleverest, most innovative webmail systems I've ever seen, but there are a number of simple functions that it just does not include, including ones that are common on many other webmail sites. I often find myself wondering, "What were they thinking?"

Here are the top reasons I don't like Gmail.com:

Reason #1: Gmail.com only sorts messages by Date (newest first) - You cannot sort by anything else (From, To, Subject, Size, etc.)
The ability to sort your messages in different ways is incredibly useful, and is present in almost every other webmail system I've ever seen, including very basic and primitive systems. I use this feature in my email every day, especially when I want to organize or clean out my messages, or find a given message or set of messages.

Gmail users have been asking for a sort function for years, but the company has not implemented it. It seems that Gmail thinks that their search function is so good that you shouldn't need to sort, but I entirely disagree. If, for example, I want to review the email I've received from each sender, searching for each person who might have sent me email is incredibly inefficient compared to simply sorting my Inbox by sender and scrolling down the list to see who has actually sent me email.

The only workaround for this is to use a regular email program (like Outlook, Outlook Express, Apple Mail, Thunderbird, etc.), set up access to your Gmail account using the IMAP protocol, and then you can Sort your messages using that email program.

Reason #2: Gmail.com only displays a fixed set of columns, with no titles
Gmail.com displays only one set of columns for messages, and gives you no ability to change them (or their order). It also shows no column titles, which fits the currently fashionable (and unnecessarily confusing) "extreme minimalism" I'm seeing in many computer, smartphone, and tablet interfaces these days.

In your Inbox and Labels (similar to folders), the columns you'll see on Gmail.com are: star icon, importance icon, sender (from), subject, attachment icon, and date.
If you search your email, the search results also display the same columns.

In your Sent Mail, you'll see all the same columns, except that it shows recipient (to) instead of sender (from).

While you might think there's nothing wrong with this, consider the following:
  • If you mix together incoming and outgoing messages into one Label (folder), which is likely if you're doing a decent job of gathering together related messages, you'll only see the sender (from) column, which will show "me" for the messages you've sent. You will have no option to also show the recipient (to) column, which means that you'll won't see as much useful information as you should.
  • If you search your email, you'll also only see the sender column, so matching messages from your Sent Mail will only show "me" in that column, making your search results more confusing than they should be.
Most regular email programs let you show any additional columns you want, and let you arrange their order to suit your needs as well. In mine, for the reasons stated above, I've turned on both the sender (from) and recipient (to) columns, as well as the size column, all of which are useful to me.

Reason #3: Gmail.com limits the number of messages it displays per page
In a Label (folder), Gmail.com displays at most 100 messages (or conversations) per page. (You can adjust this on the Settings->General page under "Maximum page size.")

When you search your email, Gmail.com only shows 20 results per page. I have not found any way to increase this number.

Since many users have thousands (or even tens of thousands) of messages in their Gmail accounts, I can understand not offering the option to show all messages, but with high-speed internet connections and computers that are faster than ever before, at least offering the option to show 500 or 1,000 messages at a time does not seem unreasonable, both in a Label and in search results, and are available on other systems.

Most regular email programs simply show you all of the messages in any given folder or search results.

Reason #4: Gmail.com's Contacts area (address book) is very confusing
First, to even find the Contacts list on Gmail.com (in its current "extremely minimalist" interface), you have to know this secret: click the word "Gmail" (in red) at the top left, then click "Contacts" in the resulting pop-up menu.

Then you'll see the sophisticated (i.e., confusing) Gmail Contacts system:
  • My Contacts: People are listed here either when you create them manually (using the "New Contact" function) or after you've edited an entry in Most Contacted or Other Contacts, which I suppose indicates that they are important to you.
  • any contact Groups you've created, in alphabetical order
  • Most Contacted: The people you've emailed with most often are also listed here.
  • Other Contacts: Everyone else is listed here by default. You can control whether Gmail automatically adds people to this list under Settings->General->"Create contacts for auto-complete."
Most regular email programs take a much simpler approach to storing your contacts, usually storing them in one big list as individual entries, with the option to create groups if you want.

Reason #5: Gmail's policies: You agree to permit them to look inside your messages and use any information they find, and they may terminate your account if it becomes inactive
When you create a Gmail account (now called a "Google account"), you agree to a number of things, including:
  • "Your Content in our Services" (Terms of Service - http://www.google.com/intl/en/policies/terms): You agree to permit Google to use any information in your account (e.g., any email message you send or receive, any contact information you store, etc.) as they see fit, even after you close your account. This is not unique to Gmail, other services like AOL and Yahoo have similar policies.
  • "Account Inactivity" (Gmail Program Policies - http://mail.google.com/mail/help/intl/en/program_policies.html): Google may terminate your account if you fail to use it for 9 months. This is also not unique to Gmail, AOL may terminate inactive accounts after 3 months, Yahoo after 12 months.
Using a regular email program probably wouldn't change this, since your messages would still pass through Google's servers.

Reason #6: The functions on Gmail.com may change at any time
As with any webmail system, you have no control over the changes they make to Gmail.com (and when they make them), including recent changes that took many previously visible functions and collected them (i.e., hid them) inside various pop-up menus around the edges of the page.

If you use a regular email program, you will generally see no change in the interface or the functions until you decide to upgrade to a newer version.

Reason #7: Gmail.com has no simple way to back up your messages
As with any webmail system, you can't directly back up your messages, since they're not stored on your computer.

The only workaround would be to use a regular email program, set up access to your Gmail account using the IMAP protocol, download copies of your messages to your computer's hard drive, and then you could perform a backup from there.

While the "Gmail Offline" feature (only available for the Google Chrome web browser) does store some messages on your computer, it's an experimental ("beta") app and it doesn't store all of your messages, so it's not really a backup system.

You can easily back up your Gmail.com Contacts (email address book) by exporting them to a text file onto your computer's hard drive (click the "More" menu to find the Export function). I strongly recommend doing this periodically.

If you use a regular email program, your messages (and your address book) are usually stored on your computer's hard drive to begin with, so they're usually easy to include in a backup system.

Reason #8: Gmail.com periodically ends support for older web browsers
As with any webmail system, as new features are added to Gmail.com and new web browsers are released, from time to time Gmail.com may drop support for older web browsers, which might adversely affect you.

Regular email programs would use the POP or IMAP protocol, and would therefore avoid this issue.

Reason #9: You can only access your messages on Gmail.com if their server and your internet connection are both working
As with any webmail system, if their server is having a problem or your internet connection isn't working, you will probably be completely cut off from even looking at your messages and address book.

In a regular email program, your messages (as of your last successful connection) and address book are always available to you, regardless of the state of your email server or internet connection.

Some of these issues are unique to the Gmail.com website, others are present on any webmail system. If you like Gmail.com, then I simply suggest that you become aware of these issues. If you're thinking about switching to Gmail.com, I hope that reading this will help you make a more informed decision.

Where to go from here
How to contact me:
email: martin@kadansky.com
phone: (617) 484-6657
web: http://www.kadansky.com

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to martin@kadansky.com and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

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Copyright (C) 2013 Kadansky Consulting, Inc. All rights reserved.

I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

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