Productivity software

Gmail Power Tips and Tools

Power tips

Use your own domain with Gmail

You don't have to have an @gmail.com address to use Gmail. Sign up for Google Apps, and you can use Gmail's webmail client with your own domain. The Standard Edition is free and supports up to 50 users. It's great for individual users and small businesses (it's the plan I use).

The Premier Edition starts at $50 per user account per year and supports added features, including unlimited users and increased storage. (Regular Gmail accounts and the mail service in Google Apps Standard Edition support 7GB per user, while the Premier Edition supports up to 25GB.) In addition to Gmail, you get other Google Apps with your own domain, including Google Calendar, Google Groups and Google Docs.

Aggregate mail from multiple accounts

Sick of checking multiple in-boxes, possibly in different e-mail clients, to keep up with all your e-mail accounts? Send all your e-mail to Gmail instead. Go to Settings --> Accounts --> "Get mail from other accounts" or "Check mail using POP3," depending on which version of Gmail you're using. Enter the e-mail address and POP3 address of the remote server you want to check. (Not an IT pro? You can get that information from your e-mail administrator or from your Internet service provider's configuration instructions.)

Warning: Aggregating your employer's e-mail into Gmail could violate security policies and confidentiality regulations. If you're an end user, check with your IT manager for permission, and if you're an IT manager, check with your company's compliance officers.

Gmail will occasionally poll the external server for new messages. The more frequently you get mail on that server, the more frequently Gmail will poll. You can speed things up even more by going to Settings --> Labs and enabling "Refresh POP accounts"; that adds a link to the top of your Gmail that allows you to poll external POP servers manually.

Gmail aggregation works with other webmail services if those services also support POP. Hotmail does, as does the premium version of Yahoo Mail, but not the free, basic Yahoo Mail.

Use remote servers to send mail

When you have Gmail checking mail from remote servers, you can also configure Gmail to send mail using your e-mail address on that remote server. Configure that by going to Settings --> Accounts --> Send mail as.

If you do that, it'll be obvious to the recipient on some e-mail systems, with a glance at the "From" address, that the message came from Gmail and not the remote server -- it will say something like "<my Gmail address> on behalf of <my alternate address>" or "<my alternate address> (sent by <my Gmail address>)." In other cases, your recipient will be able to see your Gmail address by examining the e-mail headers.

Gmail sent from another e-mail address's SMTP server
Gmail sent from another e-mail address's SMTP server
It's obvious if you've sent a message in Gmail using another e-mail address's SMTP server.

To solve that problem, you can configure Gmail to use the remote address's SMTP server to send the e-mail. Get the remote SMTP address when you get the POP3 address, and configure both at the same time.

Warning: As with the previous tip, don't attempt to use your employer's SMTP server without getting permission first. Many IT administrators will have blocked this option for an enterprise system.

In Gmail, go to Settings --> Accounts --> Send mail as. If you're setting up a new "Send mail as" address, click "Send mail from another address" or "Add another email address you own," depending on which version of Gmail you're using. If you're editing an existing address, locate that address in the list and then click "Edit info." Either way, once you've gotten started on the configuration, just follow the instructions in the wizard to finish.

Aggregate mail for multiple domains

With Google Apps, you can aggregate e-mail from multiple domains. This is better than fetching it remotely; it's faster because incoming e-mail goes directly to your Google Apps account. Also, you don't have to mess with SMTP settings. To configure, go to Settings --> Manage this domain --> Domain settings --> Domain names, and follow the instructions to add a domain.

This is handy for companies that do business under multiple domains; people from different business units can have their own branded e-mail addresses and have it all go to the same Google Apps account.

Get new goodies faster on Google Apps -- if you dare

Google rolls out new and experimental Gmail features to individual Gmail users first, holding them back from Google Apps customers until later. Adventurous Google Apps administrators can get new features faster by digging into the Control Panel. Select Manage this domain --> Domain settings --> General --> New services and pre-release features. Check "Automatically add new services when they become available," and also check "Enable pre-release features." Also, under "Control Panel" select "Next generation (U.S. English only)."

Warning: These settings are deliberately buried to make sure users know they're getting access to experimental features. If you're not willing to run the risk of your e-mail getting wonky, just leave the default settings alone, and you'll get new Gmail features after they've been tested by other people. It's safer that way. On the other hand, I've had these settings activated for a long time and have never had a problem.

Using these tips and tools, you can make a powerful e-mail client even more so. Share your own favorite Gmail tips in the reader comments.

Mitch Wagner

is a freelance technology journalist and social media strategist.

Read more about Web 2.0 and Web Apps in Computerworld's Web 2.0 and Web Apps Topic Center.

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