Gmail, officially Google Mail in Germany and the United Kingdom, is a free POP3 and IMAP webmail service provided by Google. On April 1, 2004 the product began as an invitation-only beta release. On February 7, 2007 the beta version was opened to the general public. To this day, the service has remained in beta status. With an initial storage capacity of 1 GB, it drastically increased the standard for free storage.
Gmail currently offers over 7200 MB of continuously increasing free storage (more space added approximately 3.348 MB daily), with additional storage ranging from 10 GB to 400 GB available for US$20 to $500 per year. It has a search-oriented interface and a "conversation view" similar to an internet forum. Gmail is well-known for its use of the Ajax programming technique in its design, and has tens of millions of users.
The service currently provides more than 7200 MBs of free storage and paid additional storage from 10 GB (US$20/year) up to 400 GB (US$500/year), shared over Picasa Web Albums and Gmail. The increase from 1 GB was announced on April 1, 2005 and was made for the first anniversary of Gmail. The announcement was accompanied by a statement that Google would "keep giving people more space forever. All Google says about this now is that it will keep increasing storage by the second as long as they have enough space on their servers. On October 12, 2007, Google ramped up the storage counter to 5.37 MB per hour. Approximately a week later, the counter went back down to 1.12 MB per hour. From January 4, 2008, the counter went down to about 3.35 MB per day, or 0.14 MB per hour.
On August 9, 2007, some users of Gmail reported that their storage capacity had been increased to 9030 MB (8.8 GB). The 9030 MB of space is an overall total of all the users' storage space(s) within a Google Account, including Picasa Web Albums. This development seemed to occur about the same time that Google began allowing purchasable Picasa storage. In other words, Google has shared storage space, supporting both pictures and email.
Filters can also be run by using an interface similar to the Search Options dialog (see searching below). Gmail allows users to filter messages by their text; by their From, To, and Subject fields; and by whether or not the message has an attachment. Gmail can perform any combination of the following actions upon a message that meets a label's criteria: Archiving (i.e. removing the message from the Inbox), marking as "starred", marking as read, applying a label, moving to the trash, and forwarding to another e-mail address.
Gmail recognizes related messages and groups them into "conversations" where associated messages are listed one after another, with the newest messages at the bottom. If a conversation has more than approximately 100 messages, it splits into separate sections. Reply or forwarded messages from local Yahoo! Mail accounts split up conversations because their subjects contain parameters in the local language, instead of "Re" or "Fwd:".
To organize messages further, e-mails can be labeled. Labels give users a flexible method of categorizing e-mails since an e-mail may have any number of labels (in contrast to a system in which an e-mail may belong to only one folder). Users can display all e-mails having a particular label and can use labels as a search criterion. In addition, important e-mails can be flagged with a star (as mentioned earlier) so that a user may find an important e-mail more quickly than searching through the entire inbox.
Unlike other email Web clients, Gmail does not permit users to see the size of an email message or to sort email (for example, alphabetically by subject).
Contacts can be imported in several different ways, from Microsoft Office Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird, Eudora, Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, orkut, and any other contact list capable of being exported as a CSV file. Gmail also allows a user to export their contacts to CSV.
Autosave is another feature in Gmail—a system for avoiding loss of data in case of a browser crash or other error. While an e-mail is being composed, a draft copy of the message and any attachments are saved automatically. Although messages begin to be saved once a minute, saving times vary depending on the size of the message.
Gmail places the cursor above quoted text when replying, which encourages top-posting. Regardless of how a received message is formatted, Gmail's conversation view defaults to showing only unique content, in chronological order.
Although TLS is used when one sends email via an email client such as Mozilla Thunderbird, it is not used when the email is sent from the Gmail servers to the destination domain's mail exchangers, unless supported, so at some stage the user's email message may still be transmitted in unencrypted plain text.
Gmail offers a spam filtering system. According to Gmail, messages marked as spam are automatically deleted after 30 days, but there have been reports on Gmail Help Discussion of spam mails staying in the spam folder for months. However, Gmail have claimed this problem has been fixed. The spam filtering system cannot be disabled. POP3 users need to check their Spam folder manually via the web interface as only emails sent to the Inbox can be retrieved via POP3. Currently about 75% of email sent to Gmail accounts is filtered as spam.
IP addresses of Gmail users are disguised in order to protect security. This is only the case for webmail users.
All incoming and outgoing e-mails are automatically scanned for viruses in e-mail attachments. If a virus is found on an attachment the reader is trying to open, Gmail will try to remove the virus and open the cleaned attachment. Gmail also scans all outgoing attachments and will prevent the message from being sent if a virus is found. Gmail also does not allow users to send or receive executable files or archives containing executable files.
In the past, Gmail has had severe trouble with security which allowed a full account compromise via Cross-site scripting vulnerabilities affecting the Google.com homepage or information disclosure through a file which was stored on Google's server and included all the Email contacts of the currently logged in user. The vulnerability was quickly patched after the initial disclosures on the Internet.
Gmail allows the user to add other email accounts to be used as optional sender addresses on outgoing email. A verification process is performed to confirm the user's ownership of each email address before it is added. "Plus-addresses" can also be added as sender addresses in a similar way. Moreover, any of the additional addresses can be set as the default address.
When using this feature, the address chosen will appear in the "From:" field of the email. However, the Gmail account used to actually send the message is easily seen, as it either appears on a "Sender:" field in the email header, or in the message's subject field. Some mail clients will write "From: Sender@gmail.com [mailto:Sender@gmail.com] On Behalf Of..." upon reply, making it very obvious.
Optionally, a different "Reply-to:" address can be set for each "send as" address.
Gmail does not recognize dots as characters within a username. Instead, it will ignore all dots in a username. For instance, the account firstname.lastname@example.org receives mail sent to email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, etc. Likewise, the account email@example.com receives mail sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. This can be useful in setting filters for incoming mail. However, when signing in, it is necessary to include any dots used in the creation of the account. Also note that this does not work in Google Apps for Your Domain. In Apps, each username variation must be entered as a nickname by the domain administrator.
Google Talk, Google's service for instant messaging, can be accessed through a web based interface on Gmail's site. The web based interface is able to support voice calling and voice messages if the Google Talk client is running in the background. All messages are archived to the Chats mailbox in Gmail unless 'Off the Record' is enabled in Google Talk. If the fellow chatter suddenly has to go offline, any and all further messages sent will be delivered to that person via e-mail, including in it the entire conversation had previously. Another Google Talk integration feature is voicemail, where the message is sent to the recipient's Gmail inbox; as well as synchronizing contact pictures. On December 4, 2007, Google announced integration with AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), allowing Gmail users to login to their AIM accounts and send instant messages to and see the online status of AIM users.
Google Calendar offered Gmail integration soon after it was announced on April 13, 2006. Events can be added while writing a message that get stored on the main Calendar interface. Recipients who use Gmail will then receive an invitation to the event, which they can accept or decline. Furthermore, Gmail attempts to recognize event dates and locations within e-mails, and gives users the option to add the event to a calendar, similar to Microsoft's Exchange Server.
Further integration is offered with some other Google products. Documents, spreadsheets and presentations can be opened using Google Docs, without downloading the file to a hard disk first. Also, pictures can be sent directly from Picasa using a Gmail account.
However, the new code has more stringent requirements; users must upgrade their browsers to Firefox 2.0+ or Internet Explorer 7. This can be a minor issue for some users, as several new features are available only in Gmail's newer version. Google has included a note at the top of several help pages, reiterating this differentiation between the two versions of the code:
The Gmail interface currently supports 52 languages, which include most of the US English features, including: Arabic, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese (simplified), Chinese (traditional), Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English (UK), English (US), Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Gujarati, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Kannada, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Malay, Malayalam, Marathi, Norwegian (Bokmål), Oriya, Polish, Punjabi, Portuguese (Brazil), Portuguese (Portugal), Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Sinhala, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Tagalog (Filipino), Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu, and Vietnamese.
Gmail Notifier, an official tool offered by Google, displays a small icon in the notification area (see Taskbar) in Microsoft Windows and on the right-hand side of the menu bar in Mac OS X, indicating the presence of new mail in one's inbox. It also has a feature that makes Gmail the default mail client for mailto links. It does not, however, download new messages. For Linux, several unofficial notifiers are available. It should be noted that currently the Gmail Notifier (v220.127.116.11) does not work with Google Apps For Your Domain.
On February 10, 2006, Google introduced Gmail For Your Domain. All companies who participated in the beta testing were allowed to use Gmail through their own domain. Since then, Google has developed Google Apps, which includes customizable versions of Google Calendar, Google Page Creator and more. With various editions available, it targets enterprises as well as small businesses.
On November 2, 2006, Google began offering a mobile-application based version of its Gmail product for mobile phones capable of running Java applications. Those interested in using the application can download it from gmail.com/app directly from their mobile phone. In addition, Sprint Nextel announced separately that it would make the application available from its Vision and Power Vision homepages and which will be preloaded onto some new Sprint phones. The application gives Gmail its own custom menu system, which is much easier to navigate than a Web-based application would be on a cell phone. Gmail's message threading also shows up clearly, and the site displays attachments (like photos, Word documents) in the application.
Gmail was finally announced to the public in 2004 amid a flurry of rumor. Owing to April Fool's Day, however, the company's press release was greeted with skepticism in the technology world, especially since Google already had been known to make April Fool's Jokes (such as PigeonRank). However, they explained that their real joke had been a press release saying that they would take offshoring to the extreme by putting employees in a "Google Copernicus Center on the Moon. Jonathan Rosenberg, Google's vice-president of products, was quoted by BBC News as saying, "We are very serious about Gmail."
On August 9, 2006, Gmail registration was made available to anyone in Australia and New Zealand, in Japan since August 23, 2006 and in Egypt since December 3, 2006. On February 7, 2007, Gmail registration was made public in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, Russia, Japan, and Hong Kong. On February 14, 2007, Gmail registration was made public globally, so anyone could register for a Gmail account.
Sign up link: https://www.google.com/accounts/NewAccount
The domain gmail.com is unavailable in certain countries, in which cases users are able to use the domain googlemail.com. The Gmail service does not discriminate between these two domains for incoming e-mails, therefore a user with the address "email@example.com" will receive mail sent to "firstname.lastname@example.org", and vice-versa. Accordingly, users obliged to use the googlemail.com domain are unable to select addresses already chosen by gmail.com users.
What privacy advocates also consider problematic is the lack of disclosed data retention and correlation policies. It is possible for Google to combine information contained in a person's emails with information about their Internet searches. It is not known how long such information would be kept, and how it could be used. One of the concerns is that it could be of interest to law enforcement agencies. More than 30 privacy and civil liberties organizations have urged Google to suspend Gmail service until these issues are resolved.
As part of Gmail's privacy policies, Google states that Gmail will refrain from displaying ads next to potentially sensitive messages. Content that will trigger the ad kill switch includes news about a tragedy, an email about catastrophic events, and death announcements. Critics argue that the fact remains that these emails are being scanned in order for Gmail's systems to identify the fact that the email is of this type.
By design, Gmail does not deliver all of a user's emails. When downloading mail through POP access, Gmail fails to deliver messages that users have sent to themselves. It also does not deliver to a user's inbox (via POP or webmail) those messages that users have sent to mailing lists that should be distributed back to themselves via the mailing list.
It can be difficult to submit e-mail addresses from the Gmail address book to the addressee line on the compose e-mail window. The "Autocomplete" feature is problematic and does not work under all browsers or operating systems. If an e-mail address begins with a different character than the first letter of the addressee's name, then a sender must try each alphanumeric character until the correct address is prompted. However, it is possible to open the composed message in a new window so the address book can be opened, or another instance of Gmail can be opened in another window to access the address book. Gmail's current documented help on this issue states: "While Gmail doesn't currently support the functionality to open your Contacts list while composing a message, we're testing many new features to improve our service."
Although Gmail's advertisements are often praised for being unobtrusive, they can actually take up more space than Flash-based banners when up to six "sponsored links" are displayed next to an email. Additionally, opening emails makes the Web Clips RSS-feed bar (if activated) display another sponsored link. Often the amount of advertisements displayed in the Web Clips bar outnumbers the number of RSS feeds the user has requested. However, when a Gmail message is sent to another email address of a different provider, there will be no advertisements in the message unlike most other webmail providers.
Unlike most other webmail services, Gmail's default mode did not allow for emails to be opened in a new tab or window. However, recent updates have allowed users to open and compose mail in a new window by holding the Shift key while they click on the email. This can also be done if one switches to the "Basic HTML" mode or by opening the email and clicking the "new window" icon.
When a Gmail mailbox is full, it's not possible to search for emails by size in order to delete the largest ones first. The best the web interface can do is to search for emails with attachments, but it does not indicate what the sizes of those attachments are.
On July 4, 2005, Google announced that Gmail Deutschland would be rebranded to Google Mail. From that point forward, visitors originating from an IP address determined to be in Germany would be forwarded to googlemail.com where they could obtain an email address containing the new domain. Any German user who wants a gmail.com address must sign up for an account through a proxy. German users who were already registered were allowed to keep their old addresses.
The German naming issue is due to a trademark dispute between Google and Daniel Giersch. Daniel Giersch owns a company called "G-mail" which provides the service of printing out emails from senders and sending the print-out via postal mail to the intended recipients. On January 30, 2007, Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market ruled in favor of Giersch. It seems Google isn't without a sense of humor as this is the same service Google "offered" in the Gmail Paper April Fool's Day joke in 2007.
Since June 19, 2008, the domain gmail.com no longer redirects to the Google Mail service when being accessed from a German IP address. Instead, a short text message is shown.
After Gmail's initial announcement and development, many existing web mail services quickly increased their storage capacity. For example, Hotmail went from giving some users 2 MB to 25 MB (250 MB after 30 days, and 2 GB for Hotmail Plus accounts), while Yahoo! Mail went from 4 MB to 100 MB (and 2 GB for Yahoo! Mail Plus accounts). Yahoo! Mail storage then proceeded to 250 MB and, in late April 2005, to 1 GB. Yahoo! Mail announced that it would be providing "unlimited" storage to all its users in March 2007 and began providing it in May 2007. These were all seen as moves to stop existing users from switching to Gmail and to capitalize on the newly rekindled public interest in web mail services. The desire to catch up was especially visible for MSN's Hotmail, which upgraded its e-mail storage erratically from 250 MB to the new Windows Live Hotmail which includes 5 GB of storage. As of November 2006, MSN Hotmail upgraded all free accounts to have 1 GB of storage. In August of 2005, AOL started providing all AIM screen names with their own e-mail accounts with 2 GB of storage. Another source of competition came from 30Gigs who were offering 30 gigabytes of storage, initially through invite only and was made publicly available late 2006. However in November 2007, 30Gigs was discontinued.
Every Gmail account which remains inactive for six months is labeled dormant and three months later (a total of nine months), may get deactivated by Gmail. All stored messages would be deleted if that were to happen. Other webmail services, like Yahoo! Mail and Windows Live Hotmail, have different, often shorter, times for marking an account as inactive; Yahoo! Mail deactivates dormant accounts after four months, and Windows Live Hotmail deactivates free accounts after two months (previously one).
Other than the general increase of storage limit, Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail also enhanced their e-mail interfaces after the launch of Gmail. During 2005 Yahoo! Mail and Hotmail matched Gmail's ability to have an attachment-size of 10 MB. Following the footsteps of Gmail, Yahoo! launched the Yahoo! Mail Beta service and Microsoft launched Windows Live Hotmail, both now incorporating Ajax interfaces. Google increased the maximum attachment size to 20 MB in May 2007.