How Google Can Fix Gmail

I use Gmail as my primary backup email system; it does certain things very well and comes in handy. Why don’t I use it all the time? I’m not a fan of what I consider to be a very clunky interface.

Gmail began as an invite-only product and quickly became the top free email system. But I think, Yahoo Mail, and dozens of other systems are better and easier to use.

The big attraction with Gmail was the extraordinary free storage space, which initially was an unheard-of gigabyte; that capacity quickly grew. Now it’s 15GB for free (shared with other Google services).

The problem I have with the system is the UI on the desktop. It’s unworkable for the casual user like myself. With email, there are few actions you ever need to take. Compose a message, send the message, read an incoming message, reply to the message sender, reply to the sender and ALL others to whom the message was sent, forward a message, and delete a message.

That’s seven simple items. Everything other than that—such as reporting spam—is ancillary. All you really need are seven easily accessible buttons.

With Gmail the only clear button is COMPOSE. Everything else is either buried or shown as vague, often indecipherable icons representing a function in a cutesy way. For example, if you want to reply or forward a message, the buttons should be visible and clear. But no, the buttons are grayed-out text links at the bottom of the message or a left-facing arrow up top. Not very interesting.

It gets more confusing when you actually click on the grayed-out reply text link at the very bottom of the message. Once you do, another left-facing arrow and a drop-down karat icon appear. When you click on what is actually just one button, you get a drop-down menu with “Reply to [sender]” and “Forward,” which seems redundant, as well as “Edit Subject” and “Pop out reply.” Edit subject should not be a separate function, you should just be able to do it; pop out reply is just a dumb and useless JavaScript gimmick.

In fact, the entire Gmail package is riddled with idiotic and unnecessary JavaScript gimmickry. Things jump around needlessly, popups come and go. It’s ridiculous.

Still, Gmail is almost universally praised as “the best.” This astonishes me because in a side-by-side comparison its only advantage seems to be its integration with some social media systems. In 2012, PCMag did one of the best jobs of putting Gmail in its place when Gmail tied for second with Yahoo Mail in a roundup of best Web-based mail services, with leading the way. I totally agree with this assessment as far as features are concerned (though as far as I am concerned, the webmail client for IMAP systems, SquirrelMail, is a favorite).

The point is, Gmail needs some long-overdue fixing. Someone should tell Google.

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