What's So Great About Gmail?

What is Gmail?

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Gmail is Google's free email service. You can find Gmail at mail.google.com. If you have a Google account, you already have a Gmail account. Inbox is an optional upgraded user interface for Gmail accounts. 

How Do You Get an Account?

Gmail used to be available by invitation only, but now you can just sign up for an account whenever you like. 

When Gmail was first introduced, the growth was limited by only allowing users to invite a limited number of their friends to open accounts.

This lets Gmail maintain a reputation as being elite and created demand as well as limiting growth. Gmail was almost instantly one of the most popular email services available. The limited invitation system officially ended on February 14th, 2007. 

Why was it such a big deal? Free email services like Yahoo! mail and Hotmail were around, but they were slow and offered limited storage and clunky user interfaces. 

Does Gmail Put Advertisements on Messages?

Gmail is sponsored by AdSense ads. These ads appear on the side panel of mail messages when you open them from within Gmail's website. The ads are unobtrusive and computer matched to keywords within the mail message.

Unlike some competitors, Gmail does not put ads on messages or append anything to your outgoing mail. The ads are computer-generated, not placed there by humans. 

Currently, there are no ads appearing on Gmail messages on Android phones.

 

Spam Filtering

Most email services offer some sort of spam filtering these days, and Google's is very effective. Gmail attempts to filter advertising spam, viruses, and phishing attempts, but no filter is 100% effective. 

Integration With Google Hangouts.

Gmail desktop shows your Hangouts (previously Google Talk) contacts on the left-hand side of the screen, so you can tell who is available and use Hangouts to instant message, video call, or voice chat for more instant communication.

 

Space, Space, and More Space.

Gmail became popular by giving users ample storage space. Rather than deleting old messages, you could archive them. Today Gmail storage space is shared across Google accounts including Google Drive. As of this writing, the free storage space is 15 gigs across all accounts, but you can buy additional storage space if necessary.  

Free POP and IMAP

POP and IMAP are the Internet protocol that most desktop mail readers use to retrieve mail messages. That means you can use programs like Outlook or Apple Mail to check your Gmail account. Similar mail services from Google competitors would charge for POP access.  

Search

You can search through saved email and Talk transcripts with Google as if you were searching for web pages. Google automatically skips searching through spam and trash folders, so you have results that are more likely to be relevant.

Gmail Labs 

Gmail introduces experimental add-ons and features through Gmail Labs. This lets you decide which features you'd like to use while they're still being developed. Turn on Labs features through the Labs tab in the settings menu in your desktop browser. 

Offline Access

You can access your Gmail account from your browser window even when your computer is not connected by installing the Gmail offline Chrome extension.

New messages will be received and sent when your computer is connected again. 

Other Features

You can use nifty Gmail address hacks to create the illusion of multiple accounts and help you filter your messages. You can check your Gmail through your mobile phone, or you can get notifications of new messages on your desktop. You can set up filters and labels to organize your mail. You can archive your mail for easier searches. You can subscribe to RSS and Atom feeds and receive feed summaries as if they were mail messages, and you can flag special messages with a gold star.

If you'd like to try out the upgraded interface of Inbox, simply log in to Inbox with your existing Gmail account. 

What's Not to Love?

Gmail has exploded in popularity, but it also has become a tool for spammers. Occasionally you may find that your messages are filtered by spam detection software on other email servers. 

Although Gmail lets you keep your mail archived on their server, don't count on it being the only backup for important data, just as you wouldn't leave important data on only one hard drive. 

The Bottom Line

Gmail is one of the best, if not the best free email service out there. It is good enough that many users rely on their Gmail account as a primary email address. Gmail offers an amazing amount of options and features and the ads are barely noticeable compared to the intrusion of ads in some other free services. If you don't have a Gmail account, it is time to get one.