A Little Gmail Tweak That Makes a Big Difference

By  |  Tuesday, February 3, 2009 at 2:23 pm

GmailI may be more excited about this than I am about offline Gmail access: Google has made a minor change to Gmail’s user interface that makes it–for some of us, anyhow–a far more appealing service.

Here’s the new Gmail menu bar:

Gmail Menus

What’s new are the “Move to” and “Labels” items. The latter simply moves the ability to apply a Label to an e-mail into its own menu, which makes it easier to get at the command. (Until now, you’ve had to burrow to the bottom of “More actions” to get at Labels.)

But “Move to” is the addition I’m so enthusiastic about: It lets you apply a Label and move an e-mail out of your inbox into Google’s archive with one click. Essentially, it duplicates the functionality that every other e-mail client on earth provides by allowing you to plunk an e-mail into a folder, thereby filing it away by subject matter and getting it out of your way. Kinda amazing that Google didn’t let you do it until now. (You’ve had to apply the Label and move the e-mail to the archive in two distinct steps–in theory not a biggie, but extra work is extra work. I’ve tended to ignore the problem, which means my inbox is bursting at the seams.)

Google has also introduced keyboard shortcuts and auto-complete functionality that let you label and move messages without touching your mouse; I’m not that much of a shortcut guy, so I’m less jazzed up about these. But some people will be very happy, I bet.

Unlike Slate’s Farhad Manjoo, I don’t think Gmail has reached perfection. And it won’t until it either improves the threaded-conversation interface or makes it optional. But between features that Google launches as Gmail Labs options (such as offline access) and ones it just rolls out for everybody (like the new Label interface), the company is improving Gmail at a dizzying rate…


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8 Comments For This Post

  1. Daniel Ionescu Says:

    I noticed that my Gmail buttons got square shaped and the new move-to button only when I had to log in to the web version because IMAP was playing up (probably while updating interface). Guess this makes a difference for web users but not so much for POP3 or IMAP.

    However, my Google Apps account didn’t get the overhaul yet, only regular Gmail.

  2. John Proffitt Says:

    Whew! I thought I was the only one excited about this change. It finally “unifies” the interface across platforms, so I get the same look (virtually) on Mac or Windows or Linux. Much better, I say.

    And I totally agree that this gives me more value than offline access. But I suspect that’s a minority opinion.

  3. Paulo Sargaço Says:

    I like the improvements. I would also like (I think) the shortcut you mentioned if I understood how it worked. Maybe it’s not working for me because I use BetterGmail2 on Firefox. Perhaps there’s a collision of some kind. But one thing I didn’t like is the fact that when you choose to see the messages with a particular label, the whole page has to be refreshed. Why not just redraw the messages area? Or was GMail always like this?

  4. John Proffitt Says:

    Paul – The shortcuts are keyboard shortcuts. They must first be turned on in your Gmail Settings area (General tab). Once turned on, you need to know the shortcuts to use them. You can hit “?” to get a listing of the shortcuts, by the way.

    As for refreshing once you look at a set of labeled messages, that was always the case with Gmail. The set of messages in the Inbox almost never matches the set of messages with a particular label applied. There’s a lot of AJAX screen redrawing in Gmail, but it doesn’t cover every single use-case.

  5. Paulo Sargaço Says:

    @John I was using the BestGMail2 keyboard shortcuts, so I had the GMail ones disabled. Comparing the two sets of shortcuts it seems GMail has more options. But many of them require 2 keys to be pressed. BestGMail ha one major flaw: there was no shortcut to “Compose”. Which is silly. But I have to try GMail’s to assess if it worth to make the switch.

    Regarding the redrawing of the whole webpage, it seems particularly silly since that when you return to the inbox only the messages section of the page is redrawn. But maybe it’s just a case of them not having gotten around to do it.

    Finally, I hope this doesn’t sound picky (it does, I know, but my hands are writing this of their free will. Can’t seem to stop them). My name ends with an “o”. I’m Portuguese, hence Paulo and not Paul. No offence taken, though.

  6. Jeff Says:

    I wish I could get rid of the “Move to” button; I don’t like it.
    Also, I don’t have a problem with threaded-conversation interface.

  7. Paulo Sargaço Says:

    Jeff said “Also, I don’t have a problem with threaded-conversation interface”

    I meant to mention that too. One of the things I like more about GMail is precisely the threaded-conversation interface. I bet there is room for improvement but I’d like to see that spelled out. One thing I definitely wouldn’t like would be for that feature to go away.

  8. k Barringer Says:

    I asked how to get the new menu bar not what it will do, had to go to yahoo to ask same question. Very hurt.