I’VE been a fan of Gmail ever since Google launched the test version of its free Web mail service in 2004. At the time, Google created quite a stir by offering one gigabyte (GB) of storage while Microsoft was offering a paltry 2 megabytes (MB) on Hotmail and Yahoo had a 6MB limit on its free e-mail service. The two have since caught up, and Yahoo now offers unlimited storage–but since I haven’t come close to using up my 2.8 GB on Gmail in the last two years, and I really appreciate the ability to quickly search through all my e-mail, Yahoo’s latest move really wasn’t a big deal to me.
Google has added features to Gmail since it was introduced three years ago, but many more enhancements are available from third-party developers who have extended its functionality by writing add-ons to the Firefox browser.
To get these extensions in Firefox, go to the Tools menu and choose Add-ons, then click on the Get Extensions link on the right bottom corner of the pop-up window. This opens up the Mozilla Firefox Add-ons page where you can search for the extensions you need. Once you find them, click on the Install Now button and Firefox will download and install it, and make it available the next time you fire up the browser.
Here are some of the best Gmail extensions:
Better Gmail. Most extensions do just one thing, but Better Gmail packs 25 new features into Google’s mail service, making it a must-have add-on for all serious Gmail users. These features include the integration of Google Reader for RSS feeds; icons that tell you at a glance the type of file attached; a bar graph of the storage space used and remaining; a message preview panel that can be activated by right-clicking an e-mail entry; new sidebar options; more keyboard shortcuts; and skins that change the way Gmail looks–including a really sharp imitation of the Mac e-mail client. (Another extension, Gmail Skins, lets you choose the color of your inbox, but I found it problematic.) A caveat: the version of Better Gmail on the Mozilla Add-ons site is old and does not have all the latest features. The newer version (0.8) can be found on the Lifehacker site (just Google “Better Gmail”).
Gmail Manager. Gmail Manager can notify you of incoming mail in multiple Gmail acounts. Running the mouse pointer over the mail indicator at the bottom right corner of the browser window reveals details about the acount, including unread messages, saved drafts, the amount of storage used, and snippets of any new mail. As a bonus, you can also use Gmail Manager to make mail to links on any Web page open up a Gmail compose form. While this feature is also available in Better Gmail, I prefer Gmail Manager’s approach, because it first asks you which of multiple accounts you’d like to use to send the e-mail.
Gspace. This extension allows you to use your Gmail account to store files. After installation, a Gspace item appears in the Tools menu. Choosing it opens a tab that lets you log into your Gmail account and copy files to and from it. This works like Gmail Drive on Windows, gDisk on the Mac or GmailFS for Linux , but because it’s browser-based, Gspace will work on any of the three platforms.
E-mail this! Not all Web sites have a link that will enable you to quickly e-mail a page to a friend. This extension, originally called Gmail this! now supports Hotmail and Yahoo Mail too. Simply right-click on an empty spot on a page and choose E-mail This and choose which service you want to use. The extension opens up a new e-mail form with the link already pasted onto the the body of the e-mail message.
Even without these enhancements, Gmail is an excellent Web-based e-mail client. With them installed, it’s tough to beat.