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Six ways to get more from Gmail

Make Google email do more

There's much more to Google's free email service than an inbox. Here's how to turn Gmail into a major productivity booster.

Gmail digs IMAP

Gmail's web interface has many admirers, but you may prefer to access your account via a standard email program, such as Outlook, Outlook Express, Thunderbird, or Apple Mail.

Gmail has long allowed users to download its messages to such email programs by using the Post Office Protocol (POP3) standard, in which the program downloads a copy of each message to your PC, and optionally deletes or leaves a copy of the message on the mail server.

The service recently added support for the Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) protocol, in which the mail program leaves messages on the server, downloading a copy for local viewing only when needed.

One key benefit of IMAP is that your inbox, sent mail, and sorted mail folders (or in Gmail's case, labels) look the same no matter which PC or program you use to access your mail - a boon for anyone who uses a combination of home, office, portable, and public computers. IMAP is also perfect for accessing your mail from cell phones and other devices with limited storage (for instructions, see "Three Ways to Use Gmail on Your Phone").

Before you can read Gmail in your mail program, you must make some decisions. First, choose Settings, Forwarding and POP/IMAP and specify either POP3 or IMAP. For POP3, select Enable POP for all mail or Enable POP for mail that arrives from now on.

Choosing the first option will cause your email program to download everything it finds in your Gmail account, which could tie up your computer and its Internet connection for some time, depending on how many messages you have in Gmail and whether they contain large file attachments.

Choosing the second option leaves past communications in Gmail and starts your POP3 downloads from the present moment. Next, you need to decide what should happen to the messages in Gmail after you've used your mail program to download them from the When messages are accessed with POP menu.

Given Gmail's near-unlimited free storage, I recommend avoiding the 'delete Gmail's copy' option and instead choosing 'archive Gmail's copy'. The other option, 'keep Gmail's copy in the Inbox', leaves Gmail's mail list unaltered by your POP3 downloads. Click Save Changes to enable POP3 in Gmail. To enable IMAP, select Enable IMAP and click Save Changes.

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