Preview Gmail Messages Before Opening Them

For the past couple weeks I've been stuck using my Web browser to access my Gmail accounts, rather than my preferred method: Outlook. (It's all because of the computer meltdown I mentioned in a few earlier posts.) It gets the job done, but there's one thing about it that drives me nuts: no preview pane.

If I want to read an e-mail, I have to click it, then click again to go back to my inbox and find the next message I want to read. Wash, rinse, repeat. Come on, Google, it's 2011! How is it possible that there's no preview-pane option for Gmail?

(In case you're not familiar with the terminology, what I mean is dividing the inbox into two sections: one that shows the inbox, and one that displays the contents of whatever e-mail I click. No jumping back and forth between two full-screen options. It's how pretty much every other e-mail client on the planet works.)

If this bugs you as much as it does me, you'll be glad to know there's a stop-gap solution: Message Sneak Peek. By enabling this feature, which is one of the "experimental" ones found in Google Labs, you can read the contents of an e-mail without having to leave your inbox. Simply right-click the message and presto: a preview window appears. And it's even functional: You can archive, delete, or mark-as-read the selected message.

Sound good? To enable this, head to Gmail in your browser, click the little gear icon in the upper right corner, and then click Mail settings. Click the Labs link, then scroll down until you find Message Sneak Peek. Click Enable, then scroll to the bottom of the page and click Save Changes. Now head back to your inbox and right-click any message to see the preview. Neat, huh?

Do you agree that Gmail is long overdue for a preview pane? Or do you like the service just the way it is?

Contributing Editor Rick Broida writes about business and consumer technology. Ask for help with your PC hassles at hasslefree@pcworld.com, or try the treasure trove of helpful folks in the PC World Community Forums.

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