What is Gmail?


Gmail is Google's free web-based email service. Considered in beta testing status since its public release in 2004, the Gmail service has become famous for the rapid development of new features. Thus, the beta status of the service is not expected to change. Also, the beta status has given Google cover for numerous slip ups with the service, including accidental deletion of user's accounts. Software in beta status is not to be considered fit for critical applications, and users are warned to back up their data frequently.

Storage space has been Gmail's "killer feature" since its inception. Introduced with 1 GB of storage in an era when few web-based email providers offered more than 25 megabytes, Gmail was an immediate success. As other email service providers added storage to compete, Gmail added other features such as chat, draft auto save, keyboard shortcuts, and of course continually increasing the available storage space. Many of these features relied on JavaScript and AJAX methods, which rendered the service incompatible with older web browsers, screen readers, and security-conscious surfers who disable such features. In response, Gmail introduced a plain HTML interface that works in all web browsers.

An early criticism of the Gmail service concerned the Adwords advertisements displayed in the interface when viewing a message. The advertisement content was relevant to the text of the email message, leading some to believe that Google was reading user's email. In fact, a computer was parsing the email for keywords and displaying relevant advertisements. No human has ever had access to user's email other than the account holder himself. Other common criticisms of the Gmail service include the slow rate at which requested features are added, yet innovative unneeded features are being added weekly. For instance, all dates are presented in the American MM-DD-YYYY format, which is confusing to users in the rest of the world who expect DD-MM-YYYY. Instead of adding an option to specify date format, which is a rather trivial feature, Gmail engineers have added HTML formatting to email, RSS feeds, and a chat feature.

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