Gmail Tips: Preview Messages, Insert Images, and More

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For a while now I've been stuck using my Web browser to access my Gmail accounts, rather than using Microsoft Outlook as I prefer. (It's all because of the computer meltdown I mentioned last week.) Gmail's Web interface 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. This experimental feature lets you 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?

Insert an Image into the Body of a Gmail Message

Want to send someone a photo, screenshot, or other image? If you're a Gmail user, there's only one option: attach the item(s) to the message. That's all well and good, but what if you want to embed an image in the body of the e-mail? Scan the toolbar all you want; you won't find any such option.

Head to Gmail Labs, however, and you will. (If you're not familiar with Labs, you can get there by accessing the settings for your Gmail account, then clicking the Labs tab.) The aptly named "Insert Images feature" adds a new button to Gmail's Compose Mail toolbar. Click it and you can choose an image to upload from your PC or paste a link to an image you've found on the Web. (Regarding the latter, heed Google's fine-print warning: "Remember: Using others' images on the web without their permission may be bad manners, or worse, copyright infringement.")

Once you've selected your image, Gmail pastes it into the e-mail wherever your cursor was when you clicked Insert Image. You can resize it by clicking and dragging any of the handles, or by choosing one of the four available size presets: Small, Medium, Large, and Original Size.

I should note that the person on the receiving end might not see the embedded image if he or she is using an older e-mail client or doesn't have HTML viewing enabled. In that case, it will likely show up as an attachment.

View Only Your Unread Messages in Gmail

II love Gmail--just not its Web UI. A pet peeve is that unread mail keeps getting pushed off the page by newer messages. And you know what they say: out of sight, out of mind. I need a way to view only my unread messages, without having to click through several pages' worth of mail.

Gmail doesn't have a view option for this, but there is a solution: In the Search field, type is:unread and then click Search Mail.

Presto! Now your inbox will show only those messages you haven't read. (When you're ready to go back to the standard view, just click your Inbox link.) Want to save a few keystrokes? You can also type l:^u. (The letter "L" in front is an abbreviation for "label.")

Increase the Number of Visible Messages in Your Gmail Inbox

There's a way to make all your e-mail more readily visible. Gmail gives you the option of increasing the number of conversations that are visible at a time. Here's how to find it:

  1. Start your Web browser and head to Gmail.
  2. Click the little gear icon in the upper right corner, then click Mail settings.
  3. Near the top of the General tab you'll see Maximum Page Size. Click the arrow in Show X conversations per page and change the number from the default (usually 25) to 50 or 100.
  4. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and click Save changes.

You'll notice that your inbox just got "longer." Now you can see more of your e-mail at one time, both read and unread.

If you've got a hassle that needs solving, send it my way. I can't promise a response, but I'll definitely read every e-mail I get--and do my best to address at least some of them in the PCWorld Hassle-Free PC blog. My 411: You can also sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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