Gmail Receives Some Love, Becomes Less Annoying

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Google has boosted Gmail with several small features that make it significantly less annoying. Google says the tweaks have come directly from its suggestions page, whereby users can comment on what irks them.

Some tweaks are so obvious it's amazing the original way of working ever made it into Gmail. For example, quickly creating a filter based on a message you're reading wouldn't return you to the original message once the filter was made. It does now.

Other tweaks should have been around since day one. Gmail has always added anybody you reply to you to your contacts list. This is useful but it can also lead to address books that are massive--I've been using Gmail since 2004 and have amassed 1400 reply addresses. I e-mail around 10 of them regularly and have no idea who the rest are.

An overstuffed address book can be a particular issue when syncing contacts with a phone, for example, when you can end-up with a massive phone contacts list.

Oops, forgot to fill out an e-mail address? Gmail will say so.
Oops, forgot to fill out an e-mail address? Gmail will say so.
Well, now you can switch off automatic addition of contacts. To do so, click Settings and look at the entries under the heading that reads Create Contacts for Auto-Complete.

Additionally, there's now an undo history attached to the contacts component that means you can restore the list to a previous state, within a 30-day window. Again, this can be useful when syncing with devices like phones, which have a habit of pruning or updating entries without permission.

Want to explore keyboard shortcuts? Hitting Shift+? will now show a pop-up window showing popular examples, even if keyboard shortcuts are switched off. Bear in mind this list varies depending on which mode Gmail is at the time--you'll see a different list when composing a mail than you will when browsing your contacts list, for example.

There's now a dedicated Refresh button at the top of the screen that should update the display with new messages. This is useful considering Gmail tends to do odd things like showing your Inbox an unread entry, without actually showing the new message in the list.

Hit Shift+? to see keyboard shortcuts galore.
Hit Shift+? to see keyboard shortcuts galore.
Perhaps the most useful new feature is address debugging when you're sending group e-mails. Previously, if you typed a list of addresses in a new e-mail and one had a problem (perhaps you'd typed a space in it), Gmail would alert you to a problem but not provide specifics. Now it will tell you the errant addresses in a dialog box. I'd have liked to have seen something more intuitive, such as highlighting the badly formed addresses, but this is better than nothing.

The tweaks are typical examples of Google's organic approach to improving its software, which contrasts strongly with Microsoft's approach of providing major periodic updates that can confuse users. Of course, updating in this way wouldn't be possible if services like Gmail weren't based in the cloud. And because we all access the software online, Google never has to worry about rolling out changes and the problems that arise, such as different versions on different computers.

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