10 Essential Gmail Hacks and Add-ons!


Chances are you know what Gmail is and have been using it for quite some time, even if Google’s service is technically still in beta. But did you know that Gmail can be used for many other practical functions other than sending and receiving e-mail? With the appropriate extensions and setting hacks, you can make Gmail do things that other web-based e-mail services and even some desktop clients cannot. In this guide, we will show you how to implement the ten hidden features you need to know about Gmail and introduce you to five of our favorite Gmail Labs add-ons. You may already know or use some of these features, but there are sure to be a few in here that you do not.

Use Gmail as a Hard Drive

Gmail Drive is a simple shell extension that creates a virtual file system using your Gmail account storage. Since Gmail’s storage has steadily increased, this gives you a very good size flash drive. Right now Gmail offers around 7GB of free storage.

Download Gmail Drive from this link . Save the file to your Desktop. Unzip the download and doubleclick on the Setup file to begin the installation.

If you get a window that says navigation to the website was canceled, ignore it. The program was set up correctly as long as it the drive appears under My Computer.

Double-click on the Gmail Drive system folder. It will prompt you to login, so enter your username and password for your Gmail account. We also suggest that you click the box next to Auto-Login so you do not have to repeat this process in the future.

After Gmail Drive logs into Gmail, you can start dragging and dropping files on to this virtual drive. Gmail will upload the files to your inbox, so make sure you are connected to the Internet.

When you login to your Gmail account, you will notice the uploaded files look similar to regular e-mails .

If you want, you can create a filter so these attachments go to a designated place, but more on filters later.

Download all Gmail attachments

If you have a lot of e-mail, chances are you have several attachments you need. You could go through all the e-mail and manually download all the attachments, but that would take forever. For this, we will need Mozilla Thunderbird and need to set up Gmail’s IMAP feature. After that, we will use Attachment Extractor and retrieve the attachments. The reason we are using Mozilla Thunderbird is because it’s free and has the capability to use add-ons.

First, we need to setup Gmail’s IMAP. Login to Gmail, click on the Settings button and then click on the “Forwarding and POP/IMAP” tab. Under IMAP access enable IMAP and then save the changes. Since we don’t need to have Gmail open while completing the next couple of steps, you can close Gmail.

Download Mozilla Thunderbird if you don’t have it already. You can find it here .

Double-click the file and begin installing Thunderbird using the simple installation wizard.

When you first open the program, you will get a new account setup wizard. Make sure “E-mail account” is selected and then click Next. In the “Your Name” box, enter your name, or whatever name you want to appear on your sent e-mails. In the “E-mail Address” field, enter your Gmail address in the format username@gmail.com.

In the “Incoming Server” field, type: imap.gmail.com

In the “Outgoing Server” field, type: smtp.gmail.com

In the Incoming and Outgoing username fields on the next screen, enter your complete Gmail address

On the next screen, you can name the Account whatever you wish, the name doesn’t affect how the attachments are downloaded.

After you finish the setup wizard, click on Tools and select Account Settings. Under Server Settings, change the port to 993 and set the Security Settings to SSL. These are the default settings Gmail uses and must be set up properly in order to receive email.

Click on “Outgoing Server (SMTP)” and click on the Edit button. Change the port to 587 and select TLS under “Use secure connection”.

Then click Ok and ok on the Account Settings window.

Click on the Get mail button and enter your Gmail password. Thunderbird will retrieve your e-mail and download the messages into your Inbox. Every time you re-open Thunderbird, the program will ask you for your password for security reasons. If you get tired of entering the password, put click the checkbox to have it remember the password.

Minimize Mozilla Thunderbird; we need to setup Attachment Extractor now.

Download Attachment Extractor . Save the file to your Desktop. Bring up Thunderbird, click Tools and select Add-ons. Click on the Install button. Navigate and find Attachment Extractor and open it. Now click on the Install Now button and Thunderbird will install the extension. When requested to restart Thunderbird, click on Restart Thunderbird.

When Thunderbird restarts, click on the attachment button to sort the e-mails by attachments. This will make all the e-mails with attachments go to the top.

Hold down the Ctrl key and click on all the e-mails with attachments or at least the ones you want to download. Right click on one of the messages and select Extract Attachments To. Click on Browse and create a new folder for these attachments.

The attachments will begin downloading to your computer and will give you a progress window. After they are downloaded, you will have a folder on your Desktop with all of the attachments.

Manage Multiple Gmail Accounts

Gmail Manager is a Mozilla Firefox add-on that allows you to manage multiple Gmail accounts without having to login to each of them individually. Since most of you probably have more than one Gmail account, this will be a very useful Firefox add-on.

Download Gmail Manager from Mozilla's web site . Click on the Add to Firefox button and install the add-on like any other add-on.

After Firefox restarts, click the small 'M' in the bottom, right hand corner of the screen.

Click on the Add button to add a Gmail account and type in your e-mail address and password into the dialog box.

When the program returns to the main screen, select “Automatically login to this account at startup” and click the Apply button.

If you have another Gmail account, click on the Add button again and enter the e-mail address and password for that account.

After you are done adding all of your Gmail accounts, click on the Ok button. When you open your web browser, you will notice in the bottom, right hand corner that it lists the e-mail messages present on your Gmail accounts.

To change which Gmail account is listed, right click on the e-mail and select your other account.

Share Links with GmailThis!

GmailThis! is a useful bookmarklet that allows you to quickly send an e-mail message that includes a link to a certain webpage.

To use GmailThis, click here .

Drag the GmailThis! link located just below the “Big, Important News” warning into your browsers links bar or live bookmarks area.

If you did it correctly, you should now have a new bookmark or live bookmark named GmailThis!

When you find a webpage you want to e-mail to someone click on the GmailThis! bookmarklet and log in to your Gmail account. Type in their e-mail address and click send after typing a short message explaining what the link is.

Alternatively, if you want to be lazy, you can use this bookmarklet to send someone an e-mail. Delete the link out of the body and change the subject of it. It will send just like any other e-mail.

Use Gmail while Offline

If you have ever feared not having Internet access and not being able to access that one important e-mail, this one is for you!

To enable this feature, you need to login to Gmail and click on the Settings button in the top right corner of the screen. Now click on the Labs tab.

Locate the Offline lab feature. Click on Enable and select Save Changes.

The page will refresh and go back to your Inbox. In the top right corner of the screen, you will now have a new option named “Offline”.

When you are ready to download the messages to your computer, click on the Offline button. When the pop-up comes up explaining what Offline Gmail is, click on the Install button. It will open a new window to the Gears web page. This is a required download, so you have to download it. Gears is the application that lets you store your e-mail on your local computer.

When Gears is done installing, you will have to restart the web browser, click on "Restart Browsers Now" when you are ready.

When you re-open Gmail, you will get a security warning stating that Gmail is trying to use Gears. Put a checkmark in the box next to that states “I trust this site. Allow it to use Gears” and click on the Allow button. It will also ask if you want to create a shortcut on your Desktop, Start Menu and Quick Launch bar. We recommend you create one of these shortcuts, put a checkmark in the appropriate boxes.

Gmail will start synchronizing your e-mail to your computer, please be patient.

When you are offline, just click on the appropriate shortcut and Gmail will open up with all of your e-mail since your last synchronization. Gmail will automatically synchronize when you login to Gmail on this computer, so no need to worry about manually synchronizing.

Never Forget to Attach Documents

Forgotten Attachment Detector is a very useful feature if you frequently e-mail people with attachments.

To turn on this feature, login to Gmail and click on the Settings button in the top right hand corner. Now click on the Labs tab. Scroll down until you find the Forgotten Attachment Detector and Enable it. Before you exit, make sure you click on the Save Changes button at the top or bottom of the page; otherwise, the changes will not be saved.

If you want to test it, compose a new e-mail and mention in the body that you are attaching something. When you click on the Send button, Gmail will ask if you really want to send the message.

Filter Friends and Foes

Filters are one of the best features included with Gmail. You can do almost anything with filters. You can categorize your e-mail, automatically delete certain e-mail and even flag certain e-mails for review.

Also included with Gmail is the ability to use the plus sign as a filter. At first glance, this doesn’t seem incredibly useful, but what if you get a lot of spam e-mail or you want to flag one of your friend’s e-mails for review? This is where the plus sign would become useful.

Since there is no limit to the number of filter combinations you can have, we are going to limit the filter discussion to the plus sign.

First, we need to set up the filter, so login to Gmail and click the Settings tab at the top right hand corner of the screen. Now click on the Filters tab and select “Create a new filter.”

Let us assume that you are receiving over 50 spam messages a day in your Gmail inbox. Therefore, for this example, you would use something similar to maximumpc+spam@gmail.com . Since you are using an account that is different from ours, you will have to type your e-mail address instead of ours.

Type your e-mail address +spam as shown  and click on Next Step. Select the automatically delete option. This will send the e-mail directly to the trash so you don’t have to delete it manually.

Now whenever you sign up for something that could possibly be spam, just type youremail+spam@gmail.com and it will automatically delete the e-mail for you.

This doesn’t only work for spam, you can have many other filters that flag friend’s e-mails, star important e-mails, and do many other things. Just be sure to create the filter first as shown above and give the appropriate e-mail.

More Filter Fun and Importing

Now that you can import filters into Gmail, it is simple to create custom filters and export them.

Unfortunately, this Labs feature does not work with Offline Gmail enabled, so you will have to disable that Labs feature in order to use this one.

Right click on the link here and select "Save Link As."

Save the file to your Desktop. Login to Gmail and click on Settings and select the Labs tab. Enable the Filter import/export lab feature. This will allow you to merge the file you downloaded with Gmail.

Click on the Filters tab, click the Import filters button and browse to find the filters file.

All incoming e-mail will be flagged with the appropriate labels.

These filters will do the following:

  • Label all Microsoft office documents, spreadsheets and power point presentations
  • Label most images
  • Delete all e-mails to yourself
  • Label all music files
  • Label most social networking e-mails

Use Gmail as a Productivity Manager

If you are already using Gmail as your default e-mail client, then you should be using it as a productivity manager.

You can download and install GTD Inbox from here .

After the browser restart, login to Gmail and the welcome window will display the following:

We recommend you scroll down on the welcome window and click the “Automatically Add Default Status Labels” button. You can create these labels later, but it makes it simpler if you let the program auto-create.

After it is done, click the “Go to Gmail” button in the right hand corner of the screen.

You now have a new set of labels to work with. These labels allow you to put labels next to the various e-mails you receive.

Now click on the Settings button in the top right hand corner of the screen and select the GTDInbox button.

In this section, you can create different label categories. We recommend you click on the Labels tab under GTDInbox and create some new Label categories for the different types of e-mails you receive.

Insert HTML signatures into Gmail

The one feature that Gmail lacks by default is the ability to add HTML signatures. Most other mainstream webmail clients allow you to do this. By using the Blank Canvas Gmail Signatures Mozilla Firefox add-on you can create and insert your own HTML signature.

Getting the add-on is a little tricky. Click here to go to the add-on page. Do not download Version 1.11.09, you want to download Version 1.11.11. This version is the most current version and is the only one that should be used. Even though it says the add-on is experimental, it is not. Mozilla has a huge backlog of add-ons to go through before they considered it released.

Click on the “Create a new user account” button unless you already have an account. Once you create your account, click here and install the 1.11.11 version. If you can’t get the 1.11.11 version to display, login to the Mozilla Add-ons page first and make sure you click the Automatically login button checkbox. Then close the page and try clicking the above link again.

Once you get the add-on installed, login to Gmail. Click on the Compose Mail button. You will know the add-on is working since you will have extra signature options at the top of screen.

Click on the Options button and you will see the Blank Canvas main screen. Change the signature position to “below quoted text” and put a checkmark in the “Show Reinsert button” checkbox. The below quoted text option puts the quotation at the bottom of the e-mail. The reinsert button will allow you to add your signature if it is deleted somehow. Click on the Save Options button to save the changes.

Now click on the “Create Signature” button. Since we are creating an HTML signature, we are assuming that you know how to use HTML, so insert the HTML code you want to use as a signature.  We are going to use a spread Firefox button.

After you type or paste the HTML code, you will see a preview of the signature.

If you like the way the signature looks click on the “Save Signature” button. Gmail will automatically insert your new signature into a new e-mail message. If you do not want to e-mail someone right now, just close the window or navigate to a different webpage. When you log back into Gmail, you will automatically see the signature, but if you don’t for some reason, click on the Reinsert button.

And finally, click the next page for our five favorite Gmail Lab add-ons!

Top Five Gmail Lab Add-ons

For all of these features, you can find them by clicking on the Settings link at the top of your Gmail window and selecting the Labs feature tab.

Undo Send

Ever had that e-mail you sent, but wish you had back? This is where Undo Send comes into play.

When you enable the Undo Send feature, you will have a few seconds to undo the sending of the e-mail. Just click the Undo button presented at the top and the e-mail will stop sending. Be aware that Undo Send will only let you un-send the message for a few seconds.

Canned Responses

As you know, canned responses are responses that you can send automatically.

If you send similar e-mails to multiple people and do not feel like copying and pasting, this is an excellent feature for you.

After the Canned Responses labs feature is on, click on Compose Mail. Click on Canned responses and select new canned response.

Name the canned response, doesn’t matter what you name it, but remember the name so you can use it in the future.

Start typing your canned response. When you are finished, click on Canned responses again and under Save click on the name of the canned speech. When it asks if you want to overwrite, click Ok and it will save your canned response.

Canned responses can also be used when you have to change the name of a person or building, for example. Just change the name of the person before you send the e-mail.

Snakes with Shortcuts

If you like the game Snakes and want it in Gmail, this Labs feature is for you. If you haven’t played the game Snakes, yet want to do something in your spare time, this feature is also for you.

You need to enable Custom keyboard shortcuts and Old Snakey.

After you enable these two Labs features, you should be able to press Shift and the 7 key to launch the game.

Mouse Gestures

Constantly clicking the mouse when you need to go between e-mail messages gets rather tedious. With Mouse Gestures, you can slide the mouse and automatically advance to the next e-mail.

To make this work, you need to enable the Mouse Gestures labs feature. Once it is enabled, just hold down the right click button on the mouse and slide your mouse in the appropriate direction.

Down = Return to Inbox menu
Right = Advance to next e-mail
Left = Return to previous e-mail

Text Messaging (SMS) in Chat

If you hate the tiny keyboards provided by most cell phones, you will love this feature. When you enable this labs feature, you can send a text message to any of your friends using the Gmail chat feature.

To do this, just type in the number into the chat window and click the Send SMS button. Fill in the person’s name and then send the message. The person will get a text message from the text you typed. Be careful on how many times you click enter though, each time you do the person will be charged.

Now that we've showed you some of our favorite features, you should know how to get the most benefit from Gmail account. If we overlooked one of your favorite hidden tricks or Labs add-on, leave us a message in the comments below!

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