Bring back the classic Gmail experience with Old Compose

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I wasn't a big fan of the overhauled Gmail experience when Google rolled it out last year, and I'm still not. Floating windows, changes to the way previous messages are threaded in replies, new out-of-the-way positions for formatting tools—gah. What's worse, while Google allowed users to stick with the traditional Gmail compose experience when the new look was first rolling out, that feature has since been snuffed. Now, it's floating boxes or nothing.

Unless you use an extension like Old Compose, that is.

Shortly after the new Gmail look went live, Old Compose and similar extensions sprung to action, offering users a chance to revert to (you guessed it) the old Gmail compose experience. Alas, Google repeatedly broke the functionality of the extension, prompting the team to pull the extension offline. But the team behind the extension says those issues have been fixed, and Tuesday Old Compose was relaunched in the Chrome Web Store and as a Firefox add-on.

oldcompose gmail

Old Compose offers two different views: A "Classic Compose" option that turns Gmail back into the Gmail you've used for years, and an "Improved Compose" setting that mixes the classic Gmail aesthetic with some of the service's newer capabilities, such as buttons for Google Drive and Wallet as well as major extensions. Both work just dandy, though the team says the Improved Compose setting is the permanent solution that will no longer be broken by Google. 

The first iteration of Old Compose sparked some controversy, as it required users to register an email address and tweet a promotional message at signup. The good news: Both of those hurdles have been eliminated, and Old Compose is completely free to use—no registration required. (The Old Compose team explains the reasons the original extensions had those "features" here.) The somewhat-less-good news: The changes implemented to get Old Compose working again, together with the lack of email registration, mean users will eventually have to pay to use the extension.

I spoke to Greg Brooks and Eugene Leychenko, who created Old Compose with Ansel Santosa, via email about the changes. Here's what they had to say:

"Our original version was a simple user agent hack—we told the browser we were IE8, a version that was unsupported by Google and therefore not updated to the "new" compose. This was literally one line of code and no maintenance necessary.

The downside was that no reasonable extension provides support for IE8 either. What we changed in v2 was actually reconstructing the Old Compose experience while using the new compose windows of Gmail. This way our users can use all their fancy extensions (of course we want to use our fancy extensions too!) without being forced into tiny compose windows.

The reason we will eventually have to charge a premium is because of the maintenance. Chrome gets updated, Gmail gets updated, and all the third party extensions get updated. We have to constantly ensure Old Compose plays nicely with all those moving parts and that takes a lot of time and effort. "

oldcompose in use

Old Compose's Classic View in use in Gmail. (Click to enlarge.)

That said, the newly launched Old Compose v2 is still absolutely free for now, and it's well worth trying out if you're not a fan of the new Gmail experience. I've been using the extension for a couple of weeks now, and basking in the Gmail experience of old is simply wonderful.

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