It’s been about a month now since I
switched my entire environment from
Outlook to GMail
, so it’s time to do a quick check up.

Since a lot has been said about GMail, I will try to focus on details that
have never really been covered and explain in what ways they improved (or not)
my email-reading habits.

  • The first thing I noticed in my various labels and filters is that I
    seemed to receive a lot less email.  For example, where certain mailing-lists
    used to receive more than fifty messages a day, GMail showed me less than ten on
    a daily basis.  The answer was obvious, of course:  GMail displays the
    number of conversations, not messages, which makes me feel
    like I’m less overwhelmed.  Of course, it’s just perception, but perception
    is important when you are trying to keep up with the deluge of emails that hits
    you every day.

    Having said that, I wondered if the number of messages was
    not an important information that I’d like to have (and that GMail doesn’t
    provide), and so far, I am inclined to say I don’t really miss it and I can’t
    really think of a case where knowing how many unread messages are in a
    specific folder would dictate my decision to visit this folder or put off
    its consultation to a later date.

  • Conversations, conversations, conversations.  This is a direct
    follow-up to the point above, but no mailer has come close to successfully
    capturing the meaning of an email conversation.  GMail really nailed
    it, and compared to Outlook’s abysmal conversation approach (no indentation
    in the threads and you can’t even fold an entire thread, only the unread
    messages), it’s a breath of fresh air.
  • GMail’s spam filter is working very well.  I tried
    many spam filters
    over the years and while there are some really good solutions for Outlook and
    Thunderbird, GMail’s spam filter seems to be the best I’ve encountered so far, 
    and I know quite a few people who are using their GMail account as a pure spam
    filter (and eventually switched completely over).  My only complaint is
    that it doesn’t allow whitelisting (specifying that an email with certain words
    in the Subject or From will never be marked as spam) but GMail has been good at
    learning from my actions when I moved false positives out of the Spam folder.
  • GMail’s phishing detection is also very good, and is the reason why
    recommending GMail around me (especially to beginners such as my Mom) is a no-brainer.

    Not only are phishing emails clearly flagged, the URL’s they contain are
    also deactivated.  Outlook will soon provide a similar system, so I
    hope that some time in the near future, we’ll have completely curbed this

  • One of the great impediment to comfortable email reading is quote
    handling (citing the previous messages of a conversation).  Outlook has
    one of the worst quoting mechanisms, both in reading (no colors) and writing
    (very hard to quote an email inline).  Thunderbird was a bit better in
    both areas (I especially liked the alternating colors depending on who was
    being quoted).  Again, GMail scores very high on this scale (slightly
    higher than Thunderbird) because quoted text is hidden by default.  GMail’s quoting mechanism is actually very clever since it will show the
    previous message as a "real" message but will hide its content if
    it’s being quoted again in that same conversation.  It’s hard to describe, but it works extremely
    well.  And of course, showing the hidden content is just a click away.
  • No catch up.  This is one of the things I miss and that pretty much
    any other email reader provides:  there is no direct "Catch up" button. 
    Instead, I need to click on Unread to select all unread messages, and then
    select "Mark Read" from the dropdown boxes.  That’s a lot of work if
    you do it often.
  • No "mark for follow-up" (the ability to tell the mailer to remind you to
    answer to a specific message by a certain date).  I was using this
    feature in Outlook quite a bit, and I miss it in GMail.  The Star system
    is a poor substitute, but it kind of does the job.
  • Resurrection of old threads.  This is another brilliant idea that
    captures very well how people use emails these days:  you read an email
    from a conversation, archive it when done and the entire conversation
    disappears from your Inbox.  Then if somebody sends another message in
    this conversation, the entire thread is brought back into the Inbox. 
    Simple and effective.
  • GMail is idempotent.  It’s a big word to say that I can read my
    GMail inbox from pretty much anywhere without any hassle.  It’s
    probably obvious for a Web-based client, but after so many years being
    shackled to Outlook (and therefore, only being able to read my email on a
    machine that has Outlook installed, and obviously not an anonymous one),
    it’s also quite refreshing.

Overall, the experience has been tremendously positive and GMail is more than
meeting my email needs, which I thought were pretty stringent.  And of
course, GMail is improving on a weekly basis, so there is a lot more to look
forward to.