Tired of stingy ISPs imposing arbitrary email restrictions on you? Yeah, so are we. 1MB attachment limits, 25MB storage limits, and restricted SMTP servers are sooo 1997. For a 21st-Century mail experience, step up to Gmail.
We know what you’re thinking: Webmail is webmail. But with 2.7GB of storage, 10MB attachment allowances, and an array of easy hacks that let you customize your mail account in almost any way you like, Gmail may be the most powerful e-mail tool the world has ever known. But enough of our yammering. Here’s how to turn your Gmail account into a messaging dynamo, and more.
1. Use Gmail as an Online Storage Vault
Need to keep important files handy? You don’t necessarily have to shell out 100 bucks for a high-capacity thumb drive. Instead, use Gmail’s free 2.7GB of storage as an off-site backup for the files you need access to. The easiest way is to simply attach your file to an email and shoot it to your Gmail account. Then you can retrieve it at any time just by logging in and running a quick search of your inbox. Of course, Gmail’s 10MB attachment limit means you won’t be able to archive massive documents. But it’s a great way keep your most essential files handy wherever there’s an Internet connection.
To take even greater advantage of Gmail’s free storage space, you’ll need to download a helper app. Firefox users can download Gmail Space from Mozilla’s Firefox Add-ons library, which turns the web browser into an easy-to-use file explorer. The extension lets you drag and drop files directly into Gmail’s storage space, without having to worry about the attachment size limit.
Alternatively, you can download Gmail Drive Shell Extension (free) for more ubiquitous access throughout your Windows PC. Gmail Drive Shell Extension sets up your Gmail storage space as a network drive on your PC, which you can access simply by double-clicking the GMail Drive icon in My Computer and then entering your Gmail username and password. Once you log in, your Gmail storage will act just like any other drive on your PC. It even works with Windows Vista.
2. Filter Your Mail with Positive Thinking
The lowly plus sign gets little respect in this crazy, mixed-up world. But if you use it the right way with Gmail, it could become your new best friend. By adding a plus sign and a filter tag to your own Gmail address, you can figure out which of the sites that you’ve brazenly given your address to are turning around, stabbing you in your tender, fleshy backside, and selling it to every half-witted Pr0p3cia spammer on the net.
This little hack doesn’t require a single tweak to your Gmail settings. Instead, just use the plus/tag every time you enter your address into an online form. Our favorite method is to use the name of the site you’re visiting as the tag, so it’s easy to track later on. So if you buy some vintage kicks at Raresneakers.com, enter your email address as firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gmail ignores the plus sign and everything that comes after it, so messages sent to that address will still make their way to you. But if that site sells your address to its spamifying associates, you’ll know just by peeking at the To address in the header. How you choose to exact revenge is entirely up to you.
You can also use this tip to set up filters for registration codes, listservs, and anything else!
3. Take Notice with a Notifier
You don’t have to log into Gmail every time you want to see if you’ve got mail. Instead, download a Gmail notifier. Although it isn’t prominently featured on the Gmail site, Google’s own Gmail Notifier is a free download. If you’d rather not install a system tray icon, you can always use a Gmail plugin for Firefox. Gmail Checker is a low-profile plugin that requires barely a second thought to keep track of. But if you want to check multiple Gmail accounts from within Firefox, check out Gmail Manager.
4. Import Your Old Mail into Gmail
If you decide to switch to Gmail completely, you’ll probably want to bring your old contacts and messages along for the ride. Importing your contacts is easy (just click Import in the upper-right corner of the Contacts screen and select a CSV file exported from your old mail app). Importing your old email takes a little more doing.
One of the easiest ways to get your old mail into Gmail is to download Mark Lyon’s Gmail Loader (aka GML), which you can download from www.marklyon.org/gmail/. This simple little utility will transfer messages in the mBox format (including Thunderbird, Eudora, and Netscape mailboxes) into Gmail. Transferring your mail is as easy as downloading the app, launching it, entering your Gmail login info, browsing for your mailbox folder, and clicking Send to Gmail.
To transfer Outlook mailboxes, try Outport, which can transfer messages from Outlook to a host of other mail readers, including Gmail. Like GML, Outport has a fairly simple GUI that’s easy to navigate, so you can get the job done quickly and with a minimum of mucking around.
Sadly, Gmail will stamp all the imported mail with the date on which you do the import, rather than preserve the original received dates from each of your imported messages. However, you can still find imported messages by date, because the original received dates are retained within the body of the messages. So simply searching for “Nov 06” will help you find all messages from November of 2006.
5. Turn Gmail into an MP3 Player
In the interest of convenience, Gmail has its own built-in audio player for use with file attachments. You can put it to work as an online MP3 player by using labels and mail filters to sort your files.
First, set up a label called MP3. Next, set up a filter that searches for MP3 content by clicking Create a Filter at the top of the screen. Enter “mp3” in the “Has the words” field and check the box marked “Has attachment.” This will search for any messages with music files attached (including any you may have uploaded using the GMail Drive Shell Extension mentioned earlier). Now click Next Step and check the box marked “Apply the label” and choose the label MP3. Now any time you want to pump up some jams, you can click the MP3 label on the left side of your screen and pick a tune from the list.
6. Email Impersonator
Just because you’ve switched to Gmail, that doesn’t mean you have to give up your old email address. Gmail lets you send messages that appear to come from another address. In the settings pane, click Accounts and then choose “Add another email address,” then enter the address you’d like to use. To prevent you from ruining someone else’s life by masquerading as them on the Internet, Google will send a test message to verify that the address belongs to you. Then you can choose to make that new address your default identity, so nobody needs to know that you’re really sending from Gmail. To complete the transformation, set up a forwarder for your other address’s account, so that all of your mail reaches your Gmail account.