Google's webmail service, Gmail, is powerful and flexible, but not everybody's using it to its full advantage. You can beef it up by applying these 14 tips and tools to customise and extend it.
Get incoming mail notifications
Desktop email software includes signals to let you know when you have new mail, by playing a sound or displaying a pop-up notifier. Google's free Google Notifier does the same thing for Gmail. It runs on your desktop and lets you know when you have new mail.
It can also set your default desktop email program to Gmail, so if you click an email address in a web page or document, the action starts a new mail message in Gmail. And Google Notifier will warn you about upcoming Google Calendar meetings too.
Unfortunately, it can't be configured to show you only new Priority Inbox messages; it shows you all new messages in your in-box.
Use the Authentication icon for verified senders
This tip can save you from major security headaches: Gmail can be configured to show a special icon next to email coming from eBay and PayPal to verify that the email is legitimate and comes from the sender it appears to be from. This will help protect you from being phished. To activate the feature, go to Settings, then Labs and enable 'Authentication icon for verified senders'.
Customise the user interface
Gmail Labs is the place where Google lets you enable experimental Gmail features. It has a number of goodies to customise the user interface and streamline mail reading. A few of my favourites that I recommend enabling:
Add a 'Mark as Read' button to the row of buttons at the top of Gmail, so you can mark a message as read without opening it. Otherwise, you'd have to click the 'More Actions' menu to do the same thing; I'm exhausted just thinking about the extra work entailed.
Add a 'Send & Archive' button to the outgoing message composition window, to send your reply to a message and archive the conversation in one click. Before the availability of this feature, Gmail users had to send email, then archive the conversation by clicking separately. How did we ever bear it?
View multimedia content inline in your email. Enable 'Flickr previews in mail', 'Google Maps previews in mail', 'Picasa previews in mail', and 'Yelp previews in mail' to view the content of links to those services inline in your mail messages.
Explore other features of Labs
Labs has a wealth of other features; it's well worth browsing. Some more of my favourites:
'Default reply to all' makes 'reply to all' the default option when replying to messages, rather than 'reply to sender' being the default.
'Don't forget Bob' suggests additional recipients when you're composing a message.
'Got the wrong Bob?' warns you if it thinks you've misaddressed a message.
'Auto-Advance' changes the default action when you delete, archive or mute a conversation. Instead of returning to your in-box, which is the default behaviour, Gmail instead opens the next conversation, saving you a click.
'Sender Time Zone' tells you what time it is at the location the sender sent the message from.
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