Thursday, April 22, 2004

Comments, Links

X-UL-lent Mail: I was playing around with my GMail account today, which I got through Blogger (for being an "active user", whatever that means). Several things to note:

  1. The never-thrown-an-email-away feature, when you think about it, is pretty intuitive. What do I do with my old mail now? Since I use Pine to read my e-mail, the mailboxes are just flat text files. At the end of every few months, I move all the read-mail and sent-mail folders into a directory specifically for email archival. If I ever need to find an old e-mail, I change into that directory and search by content (grep). Google has replicated this: select a read e-mail and click "Archive", and it's removed from your Inbox. When you want to find it, either search through the "All Mail" box or do a search for the sender's name, e-mail address, or some keyword that relates to the body of the e-mail. This isn't a revolutionary new idea, it's something we already do that Google has taken one step further—a genius step further.
  2. On the internationalization front, GMail is encoded in utf-8. This means that it can handle all sorts of foreign languages. For example, it had no problem displaying a message in Chinese that I sent to myself. But GMail still lacks the ability to search for non-Western characters. It just spits out some Unicode code and returns no messages. I'm guessing this is why it's still called GMail Beta, and I'm looking forward to see how they take care of this feature.
  3. Attachments launch in a new window.
  4. The category labels are nice. You can attach multiple categories to each e-mail. I'm still thinking about the idea categorization system. I think it will follow the way I name my digital photograph files: places, organizations, groups of people, and perhaps a special category or three for special individuals.

Now I'll explain the title of this post, an idea I came up with in that place where inspiration always strikes: in the shower. I think GMail is a chance for Google to become even more ubiquitous on the Internet. In fact, this is almost a predetermined fact. The opening of GMail will strike to the heart of Google's main competitor, Microsoft, by stealing away thousands of Hotmail users. But there is a way in which Google could kill two birds with one stone, using GMail to steal market share from Microsoft in another area. Over this summer, Google should put a couple of interns to work building an XUL front-end to GMail. When they go back to school in the fall, have a few usability engineers polish it up, and release it on the sly, as an alternative to the Javascript/XHTML interface. Yes, users would have to download Mozilla or Firefox to use it, but that would be a small sacrifice to make for a slick e-mail client using native GUI widgets. A recent Slashdot thread mentioned that Oracle is going this direction for some of its database adminstration utilities, and that Lowes hardware stores use an XUL app for their inventory front-end. If Google did the smashing good job that they've done on the rest of their products, this could really draw people away from Internet Explorer, bring more people to use GMail, and be a boon to the FLOSS community, all at once.

Those are my ideas on GMail. Now, if I could just get somebody from Google to read this...

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