Remember when webmail used to be synonymous with AOL? Boy has the Internet grown up since then, and lucky for us, a little company called Google came along and changed not just how we surf the web, but also how we communicate with each other. We're of course referring to Gmail, Google's nearly six-year-old webmail service that only recently shed its beta tag.
For most of you, we're probably preaching to the choir and you already own at least one Gmail account, if not several. And with good reason, too. Google's now-infamous email service offers oodles of storage space (over 7GB and counting), excellent spam detection, built-in chat, awesome search capabilities, a ton of customization options, and a whole lot more. But even with all that it offers out of the box, are you making the most out your Gmail account?
That's where we come in. We show you everything you need to know to wield Gmail like a pro. Need to access Gmail offline? How about automating canned responses for quick-fire emails? Want to set up Gmail on your own domain? We'll walk you through all of these, plus a whole lot more essential tweaks and tips that most people are just too lazy to use.
You've heard the expression that you need to learn to crawl before you can walk, and when it comes to Gmail, you'll be ahead of the game if you learn how to use keyboard shortcuts before diving into more advanced options. To enable keyboard shortcuts, click on Settings and mark the 'Keyboard shortcuts on' radial button.
Now that you have this feature turned on, here's a sampling of what you can do with it:
There's a lot more shortcuts to learn, all of which you can reference here.
One shortcut that's not on the list, however, is a keyboard combo that opens up a simple version of Snake. But you'll first need to enable this one under Gmail Labs. Click on Settings>Labs. Scroll down until you see Old Snakey and mark the Enable radio button. Press the Saved Settings button all the way at the bottom, and then just mash the & key (Shift+7) to fire up this classic time waster!
Kudos to you if you can remember the email address for everyone in your Address Book. That gets pretty difficult when you start dealing with dozens of contacts, let alone hundreds or even thousands, and who wants to sit around and retype all that info? The good news is, in most cases you won't have to when making the switch to Gmail.
Like many email clients and services, Gmail supports the Comma Separated Values (CSV) file format. This makes it easy to transfer your Outlook contacts over to Gmail. In Outlook, click on File>Import and Export. Choose 'Export to a file' and press Next. Choose 'Comma Separated Values (Windows),' which should be the second entry down, as depicted above.
By default, Outlook seems to assume you want to export your mail and automatically scrolls down to your Inbox. But what we're after are all the email addresses, so scroll up and highlight Contacts, and then click on Next.
Choose a location for the file you're about to save and give it a name, like OutlookContacts. Click Next>Finish and wait a few seconds while Outlook composes the file.
Now that you have your CSV file, sign in to Gmail and click on Contacts. You should see three links at the top of the Contacts window: Import, Export, and Print. Click on Import>Browse and select your CSV file. Note that before mashing the Import button, you can choose to import your contacts to an existing group or create a new one by clicking the related checkbox. Once you're ready, press Import.
Use this same method for any service or client which allows you to export your contacts to a CSV file. If you have a Yahoo email account, for example, click on the Contacts tab and select Export from the Tools pull-down menu. Press the Export Now button next to Yahoo! CSV, type in the CAPTCHA code, and Yahoo will automatically begin exporting your addresses. Then it's just a matter of importing the file into Gmail as outlined above.
It doesn't matter whether we're sitting at the library or fixing Uncle Pete's PC. If we're sitting in front of a computer, we're probably going to check our Gmail to see if we have any urgent messages. That's fine, but what if you forget to sign out? The next person that uses the PC will able to jump into your account and read all of your conversations. Even worse, that person could send out emails on your behalf and create all kinds of chaos. And all because you forgot to sign out.
Don't sweat it, Google has your back. Scroll down below your inbox and take note of the Details URL. Right next to it, Google tells you when the last account activity took place, and from which IP it originated from.
When you click on the Details link, a new window pops up with more detailed information about any recent activity that occurred on your account, including the IP address, date and time, and even the access type (browser, mobile, POP3, SMTP, and so forth).
In addition to your armchair investigation, this is also where you're able to sign out of your account remotely. Just click on the 'Sign out all other sessions' buttons and it will be like you never forgot to log off at all!
Gmail isn't going to replace your multiprotocol instant messaging client (Digsby, Pidgin, etc) anytime soon, but it does come in handy being able to load up your AIM contacts for a quick conversation here and there. Imagine receiving an urgent email from a contact who also has an AIM account. Rather than email back and forth, just fire up a chat and find out what's going on.
To do so, scroll down to chat, click on your name, and select Sign into AIM. If this is your first time signing in, Gmail will take a short moment to import your buddy list, which will be displayed right in the browser window.Then just click on a name like you normally would and start chatting.
There aren't a ton of options to play with, but Google does afford you some control over how you choose to chat. In terms of the UI, you can pop the chat window in and out of the Gmail browser window. But even more useful is the ability to chat off the record. Anything you type will saved to both your and the recipient's chat log, but if you'd rather that not be the case, click on 'Video & More' and select 'go off the record.' From now on, any messages you send will not be saved on either side.
Ever get caught up in a lame group conversation that you want no part of? You basically have two options when this happens. First, you can send off an insulting email letting the other participants know you have no interest in their topic of conversations and to remove you from the current discussion. The problem in doing that is you're bound to piss someone off and it will all be for naught. Why? Because some bonehead will inevitably reply to an older email from which your name hasn't yet been removed, putting you right back in the thick of things.
The other solution is to simply put up with it and delete the emails as they come in. If you're thinking there's got to be a better way, you're absolutely correct. One of the coolest features in Gmail is the ability to mute or flat-out ignore a conversation. Here's how you do it.
First you need to turn on keyboard shortcuts as we outlined earlier (Settings, Keyboard shortcuts on, Save). Once this is enabled, simply press the 'm' key to mute a conversation. By doing so, new messages added the conversation skip your inbox and stay archived. That is, unless you're the direct recipient, in which case it will still show up in your inbox so you don't have to stress over missing any urgent emails.
The downside to this is your muted messages can quickly become lost, making them difficult to track down if you ever need to reference one of them. However, there's an easy way to sort through them all. In the search field, type is:muted.
What you won't find is an unmute button, but that's okay, you don't need one. To unmute a conversation, open it up and click on Move to Inbox.
We're not going to debate which is the better email protocol, IMAP or POP3. We don't need to, because Gmail supports them both, as does Outlook. So rather than spark a flame war over which one is better (*cough* IMAP *cough*), we'll show you how to configure each one.
Configure Gmail in Outlook with POP3
Before you do anything, sign in to your Gmail account and click on Forwarding and POP/IMAP. There are a few different options for enabling POP3, and we recommend checking the second one, 'Enable POP for mail that arrives from now on.' If you want Outlook to also download mail that you've already received and read, click the other radio button. Press Save Changes.
In the same section, decide and choose whether you want Gmail to keep a copy of messaged accessed via POP3 on Google's servers, archive them, or delete them.
Now fire up Outlook and navigate to Tools>Account Settings and be sure the Email tab is selected. Click on New, select the first radio button (Microsoft Exchange, POP3, IMAP, or HTTP), and press Next. Fill in the account setup form, including your Gmail email address and password. Once you're finished, click on Next and see if Outlook is able to automatically configure your account. If not, you'll need to go back and mark the 'Manually configure server settings or additional server types' checkbox.
Click Next and select the Internet E-mail radio button. In the next window, fill out the fields as follows:
Now click on the More Settings button and select the Advanced tab. Fill out the following:
Configure Gmail in Outlook with POP3
Sign into Gmail, click on Forwarding and POP/IMAP, and mark the Enable IMAP radio button. Press Save Changes.
Load up Outlook and create a new account using the same steps above, only this time don't even attempt to let Google auto detect the settings. Mark the 'Manually configure server settings or additional server types' check box, click Next, and fill out the fields as follows:
Now click on the More Settings button and select the Advanced tab. Fill out the following:
The reason it always seems like your Internet connection goes out at the worst possible time is because when you stop and think about it, there's really no good time to be without Internet access. Whether we're trying to play an online multiplayer game or collaborate on a cloud project, losing an internet connection sucks. That doesn't mean you can't still be productive, however, because Google has made it possible to use your Gmail account offline. Here's what you need to do.
Log into your Gmail account, click on the Settings link in the top-right corner (right next to your email account), and then click on the Offline link. You'll see a bunch of options for configuring Offline access, but the one you have to check for this to work is the 'Enable Offline Mail for this computer' radio button.
Configure the other options however you like and then press Save Changes. You should now see a pop-up window with a short description outlining what Offline access is. Read it and then press the Install button. This will open up yet another window directing you to install Gears. You need this app in order to access Gmail offline, so go ahead and click through the installer. Be sure to save your work because you'll need to restart your browser once Gears is finished installing.
After installing, you should be greeted with a pair of pop-up windows. One of them will ask permission for Offline Mail to use Gears (mark the checkbox and click Allow), and the other will ask if you want any shortcuts installed (select as desired).
At this point, the synchronization process will kick in. Depending on how much email you've acquired through the years, this could take a long while, even on a fast connection. Once it's finished, however, you'll be able to access all your mail offline just by clicking on any of the shortcuts you created in the previous step. And don't worry about remembering to sync in the future; Gmail will do this all on its own whenever you log in.
If you'd rather not use an email client like Outlook or Thunderbird, and don't want to install Google Gears for offline access, you can still maintain a backup of your Gmail account. Here's how.
Download and install Gmail Backup from here. Run the program, input your username and password, and choose a directory to save your mail. When you're finished, click the Backup button and Gmail Backup will do the rest. Should you ever need to view these messages offline, you can do so in Outlook and other clients that support the .eml file format. But what's even cooler is that you can restore your local emails back into Gmail just by clicking on the Restore button.
Google does a lot more than just email, and that can mean wielding different accounts, tabs, or browser windows. If you're heavy into Google Apps, that can quickly become a drag, so here are a few ways you can integrate Gmail with other Google services.
We'll start off by mentioning iGoogle, which serves as your hub for most things Google, or your gHub (we made that up). With iGoogle set as your home page, you'll have quck access to a variety of services, including Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, and a bunch of optional Gadgets, which you can access here.
to integrate Google Calendar with your Gmail account, log into Gmail, click on Settings, and select the Labs tab. Scroll down and enable the Google Calendar gadget, and then click Save.
Google Docs Previews
Google Labs also has a gadget for previewing Google Docs. You'll find this entry just below the Calendar gadget. Once enabled, you'll be able to see previews of documents, spreadsheets, and presentations right in your email whenever someone sends you a link to a Google Doc.
Google Voice Player
There's no need to navigate back and forth from Gmail to Google Voice in order to play back your voicemails. Enable 'Google Voice player in mail' under the Labs stab and you'll be able to play back your voice messages from your email notification.
We admit it, we're hypocrites, but hear us out. Sure, we despise as much as the next person receiving an automated response to a customer support inquiry, so why in the world would we advocate setting up Google's so-called Canned Responses? Put simply, we can be much more efficient and less burnt out by composing pre-set replies to common questions we receive all the time.
To take advantage of this feature, head back into the Labs tab (under Settings), enable Canned Responses, and mash the Save button. Now let's say you placed a For Sale ad on Craigslist or your local Classifieds and the item sold, but you continue to receive inquiries. It can get pretty old typing out the same response over and over, and it's bad etiquette to just ignore the email. After all, you may be shunning a future buyer for other items you may list for sale.
This is where Canned Responses come in. Type in your response. In our example, we wrote, "The 2008 Pontiac GTO I listed on Craigslist is sold. Thank you for your interest." It's short, polite, and to the point, and it's also generic enough to be used no matter what the question is regarding the car that was recently sold. To save this message as a Canned Response, click on the Canned Respond link in the upper right corner, select Save, and give it a name.
The next time an email comes in asking about the car, we can simply click on the Canned Response link and insert our pre-composed reply.
To take it a step further, we can automate the process of sending Canned Responses by using Filters. To do this, click on the Create a Filter link next to the search box. In this example, we want to filter emails that contain the words 'Craigslist,' 'Pontiac,' or 'GTO.' We'll write these down in the 'Has the words' field with each word separated by the search operator 'OR' (in all caps). When you're finished, click Next.
In the next step, mark the 'Send canned response' checkbox and select the appropriate one from the pull-down menu. You can also choose to mark the email as read, delete, archive it, and a few other options. When you have it configured the way you want, mash the Create Filter button and let Gmail handle the rest!
Thank virus writers and malicious malware miscreants for the restrictions most ISPs and email services place on potentially dangerous file types. That includes Google, which blocks you from sending or receiving executables, as well as some other file formats, even if they're sent in a one of these compressed file types: .zip, .tar, .tgz, .taz. .z, and .gz.
The easiest workaround is to amend the file extension to fool Gmail into allowing the file, and then let the recipient know they'll need to rename the file. For example, let's say you coded a simple app and wanted to share it with your mentor. Open up the directory where the file is located and press the Alt key to bring up the menu bar. Click on Tools>Folder Options, select the View tab, and uncheck 'Hide extensions for known file types.' Hit OK.
Now you can edit your file's extension. Right- click the blocked file and select Rename. Add .REMOVE to the end of the file, so for example CustomApp.exe would become CustomApp.exe.REMOVE. A pop-up window will appear letting you know that if you change the extension, the file might become unusable. Click Yes, as once the recipient changes it back. it will be fully usable again. Now you're free to send your file!
Protip: If you have a lot of blocked file attachments to send, compress them into a single .zip file and then change the .zip extension in the same manner above.
If you're not comfortable thwarting Gmail's virus scanner, you still have other options. One of our favorites is YouSendIt. Once you register, this free service will allow you to send any file type up to 100MB in size (By contrast, Gmail limits messages to 25MB). If you need more than that, there are also several subscription plans available starting at $10/month.
To use the service, just log in, attach your file, and fire away. Once the file is uploaded to YouSendIt's servers, the recipient will receive an email with a download link that's good for 7 days. Groovy!
So you're ready to ditch your email client, but aren't so keen on giving up all of your saved mail? No problem! Thanks to a nifty program called Gmail Loader, it's pretty easy to import your old mail into your Gmail account. Here's how.
First, download and extract Gmail Loader from here. Fire up the program and click the Find button. You'll need to navigate to the Local Folder, which is buried in your Thunderbird Profile folder. To locate the Profile folder, follow Mozilla's instructions here.
What we're looking for is the Inbox file, which on our Windows 7 testbed is located here:
Once you've located the Inbox file, enter in your Gmail address where indicated. The rest of the settings you can leave alone, and all that's left to do at this point is hit 'Send to Gmail.'
If you receive errors when attempting to import your mail, you'll need to change the SMTP Server field and input your ISP's info. Check the 'Requires Authentication' box and input your username and password.
If you own a website, chances are you also want to use your personalized email address (firstname.lastname@example.org, for example). At the same time, Gmail's feature set typically trounces all over most other email services, including the one that comes prepackaged with your domain. One solution is to simply forward your email to a Gmail account, but that isn't exactly elegant. Nor is it necessary, because Google allows you to host your domain email at Gmail, giving you the best of both worlds.
To get started, you need to sign up with Google Apps Standard Edition (it's free) by following this link. Click the 'Administrator: I own or control this domain' radio button and type in your domain name in the specified field.
When you're finished setting up your account, you'll be required to verify that you own the website you just registered. You can do this in one of two ways - either by uploading an HTML file to your website, or changing the domain's CNAME records with your domain host. It doesn't matter which one you choose, though if you choose to go the CNAME route, Google provides specific instructions for several popular hosts here (scroll down and expand 'Specific instructions for popular domain hosts).
Once you've verified your site, you'll need to configure your domain's MX (Mail Exchange) records. How you get there will depend on which host you're using, and so will the records you need to input. Find your host here and follow the instructions exactly as Google lays them out, or if you don't see your host listed, follow these general MX record instructions:
It might take a little while for all the changes to take effect, but when they do, you'll be able to log into your email account by navigating to http://mail.google.com/a/YOURWEBSITEHERE.COM/#inbox, where YOURWEBSITE.COM is the name of your domain.
After you log in, spend some time familiarizing yourself with the Dashboard and the different settings available. For example, you can create up to 50 email accounts, set up groups, enable contact sharing, and more.
Interested in learning which sites are sharing your email address? There's an easy way reveal which sites and services aren't living up their privacy promises. All you have to do is append your email address with +xxx, replacing xxx with whatever you want. For example, if your Gmail address is JohnDoe@gmail.com, you could use the email address JohnDoe+BestBuy@gmail.com when registering at Best Buy. Emails sent to JohnDoe +BestBuy@gmail.com will still show up in your regular inbox, and if you start receiving all kinds of unsolicited junk mail at that addy, you'll know the culprit.
Discovering who's sharing your email isn't the only thing this trick is good for. Pre-labeled emails also come in handy for sorting your messages and using a unified account in place of several email addys. If you wanted to keep your work messages separate from your day-to- day email, just append the word 'work' to your email addy. To use our above example, you would use JohnDoe+Work@gmail.com when communicating with co-workers. Take it a step further by creating labels and setting up filters to automatically sort your work, personal, and any other types of email addresses you set up.
Few email services come close to offering the same flexibility and management options as Gmail, and it's mostly due to Google's implementation of labels and filters. In short, labels act like folders, while filters act like, well, filters.
If you're using Gmail, you've probably already created a few labels. Here are some good ways to utilize them:
Every Gmail account comes with more online storage than you're ever likely to use (7GB and growing), or at least that's the case if all you're doing is using it for email. Rather than let it go to waste, why not use it as an online storage or backup for your local files? Here's how.
Download and install Gmail Drive from here. Gmail Drive is a Windows shell extension that creates a virtual file system based around your Gmail account. Once installed, Gmail Drive will appear as a regular hard drive under My Computer. Double-click the drive and enter in your Gmail username and password, and then just drag and drop files to upload them to your Gmail account. Of course, you'll need an Internet connection for this to work, since this is a cloud-based storage solution
When you log into your account, the uploaded files will appear as emails with file attachments.
Troubleshooting: Gmail Drive works best in 32-bit Windows. You can try your luck at getting it to work in a 64-bit version of Windows, but it likely will not work.
Gmail owes much of its flexibility to Gmail Labs. These add-ons are essentially beta services that, for one reason or another, haven't been implemented yet as a permanent feature. But don't let the experimental status fool you - there are a lot of good Labs features that both run stable and improve the overall Gmail experience. Here's a list of our favorite five, in addition to the ones we've already covered previously in this writeup (like Canned Responses).
Allows you to reorganize and reorder the items in your navbar simply by dragging and dropping. Very handy.
Uh oh, did you just fire off an email without the promised attachment you said was included? That won't happen with this Labs featured enabled. Should you mention an attachment but forget to include it, a pop-up will appear giving you an instant do-over.
Buttons or pull-down menus? If you frequently perform a particular action, the button wins out every time. And if you find yourself marking emails as read on a consistent basis, this just might become your favorite add-on.
Use these two Labs features together (the latter requires the former) to send and receive SMS messages in chat, which is a lot easier to do when you're sitting at a PC with a full-sized keyboard than it is to dig out your smartphone and mash your thumbs.
Probably the best Labs feature ever, Undo Send gives you a moment to reflect on that angry email you just sent your boss, and should a cooler head prevail, unsend the message and maybe even save your job!
Have a favorite Labs feature that didn't make the list? Be sure to post it in the comments section below!
It's tough to imagine using Gmail without Gmail Notifier. This little utility sits unobtrusively in the systray and lets you know when there's a new message in your inbox. It also serves as a gateway to your inbox - just right-click and select View Inbox.
The hardest part about being a social butterfly in cyberspace is managing all those different accounts. It's easy to waste an entire morning just catching up on current events through Gmail, MySpace, LinkedIn, Friendster, and Twitter. That's where Fuser comes in, which is a catch-all front-end that combines all those accounts (including multiple accounts through the same service) into a single, manageable inbox.
Send and receive signed and encrypted messages in Gmail with this Firefox add-on. Once installed, you'll notice a padlock icon when composing an email. Give it a click to lock and encrypt your email, and rest easy knowing your top secret message will stay that way.
We like any tool or service that makes our lives easier and streamlines common tasks, and one such utility that fits the bill is the Email This! Firefox add-on. Once installed, Email This! will appear in your right-click context menu making easy work out of emailing the title, link, and any highlighted text through your Gmail account.
This Firefox add-on is like a supercharged version of Gmail Notifier. Probably the best feature is the ability to add multiple accounts, but you can also configure how often Gmail Manager checks for new messages, display new mail snippets from the inbox, play a sound when new mail arrives, hide your email alias, and more.