A few years ago I would’ve sworn I’d never give up a rich desktop email program like Microsoft Outlook or Thunderbird to check my email in a web browser. But here I am in 2009, a full-time web-based Gmail user. Back when I was a zealous Thunderbird evangelist, I said it was T-bird’s extensibility and the endless things it could do with add-ons that made it better than any fixed-feature webapp. But Google launched its own set of “add-ons” in the form of Gmail Labs features, and some of them have become such an important part of my email workflow I’ll never look back. Where Labs falls short, Greasemonkey user scripts via the Better Gmail 2 Firefox extension fill in the gaps.
The list of available Gmail Labs features seems to lengthen by the week, but there are quite a few “meh” items that drown out the really good ones. Here are the five I’ve got enabled, plus the Better Gmail 2 options I’ve got checked off.
My Favorite Gmail Labs Features
Send & Archive–There’s nothing more satisfying than replying to a message and making it disappear out of your inbox in a single click, and the “Send & Archive” button does just that. For Inbox-zero-ers, this one is a godsend.
Forgotten Attachment Detector–I always forget I have this one enabled, until I write a message about that document I’ve attached and hit send without attaching it.
Canned Responses–For someone who sends tons of repetitive email like myself, scripted responses means I write back to people asking the same questions faster. I’ve got generic canned responses set up for bug reports, press releases, and just general “thanks for your note” replies.
Quote selected text–If you get long email and want an easy way to snip out sections to reply to selectively, Quote Selected Text will do the job. Select text in the message you want to respond to, then tap the R key to quote it and only it.
Calendar gadget–Put your Google Calendar’s agenda in Gmail’s sidebar with this one. It’s a no-brainer, helpful add-on to your Gmail dashboard.
I’ve also been giving the impressive Tasks Labs feature a test-run this past week as my todo.txt on the go; I access it from my phone’s web browser. So far so good, but I’m not committed yet.
My Favorite Greasemonkey User Scripts for Gmail
As for the Better Gmail 2 Firefox extension, I’ve got the following options enabled:
- Inbox Count First: Gmail Labs’ “Title Tweaks” isn’t as good as this script, which puts the number of unread items in your inbox FIRST. Title Tweaks shows the label you’re in THEN the number of unread messages.
- Show Unread Message Count in Favicon: Another easy way to see how many unread items you’ve got in your inbox, direct on the favicon, great for someone who has a LOT of browser tabs open all the time (or who uses FaviconizeTab to save tab bar real estate).
- Add Row Highlights: Adds a nice visual as you mouse around Gmail.
- Attachment Icons: This is the one I’m shocked Gmail Labs hasn’t offered yet; visual cues in message lists as to what type of file attachment comes with the message. (Zip, PDF, Word, text, and image file types all get icons with this one enabled–try a search for
has:attachmentto see them).
- Folders4Gmail: This is the killer feature in Better Gmail 2–it enables you to make hierarchical labels, like folders. For example, I’ve got smarterware/comments and smarterware/registrations labels. Here’s what Folders4Gmail makes them look like:
- Hide Chat, Invites Box, and Spam Count: I like to keep my Gmail dashboard clean, I don’t use Gmail chat, and I don’t ever check my spam label, so all of these options clean out the unneeded clutter. Labs offers a “Hide Unread Count”, but it doesn’t apply just to Spam–it applies everywhere.
If you use Gmail, are you accessing it on the web, or through IMAP or POP elsewhere? What’s your favorite Labs feature or Greasemonkey script for Gmail? Testify in the comments.