I’ve spent much of the last week or so in an office where the Internet is accessible only through the tightest of firewalls. There’s no complaint implied here; the value of some of the IP in the building might exceed the value of the entire company, so paranoia is amply justified, but it does mean that I can’t fetch my usual POP3 email. This gave me the perfect excuse to see how GMail is going.
I should really refer to it as GoogleMail since I’m in the UK where, amusingly enough, some other outfit has been using the name “GMail” for a while. I do enjoy it when Big American Corporations forget that the rest of the world exists when they’re looking at trademarks and patents. Any road up, whatever you call it, a couple of IMs later I had an invitation to sign up and a shiny new googlemail.com address. Many others have written with far more skill and judgement than I on the subject of how G[oogle]Mail does what it does, so I’ll refrain from cluttering up the RSS feeds with yet more. What struck me as worth commenting on was the contrast with other web mail interfaces… specifically Exchange’s.
For reasons of not-getting-around-to-it, I have only web access to an email account at the place I’m working (it’s my laptop, it’s not in their domain, etc, etc). This gives me the sort of web interface that takes one back to the heady, pre-Ajax days five years ago, when Hotmail was king. I mean: it’s awful. Pages refresh for any change, looking up any data whilst in the middle of writing an email involves an endless dance of Open Link In New Tab (this is all in Firefox, but IE doesn’t add anything). Google, in contrast, have really worked hard and come up with a web interface that’s arguably better than some PC-based mail clients.
I think it’s a question of attitude. Google have jumped headfirst into the whole Ajax & web thing (with the exception of Google Earth). Thus the web interface is a poor relation in the eyes of any company who see the world in terms of PC-based applications, whereas it’s the primary way of doing anything for Google.