Why This is UnacceptableYes, I believe that Gmail is the future of email (I'm a little biased).
But this is far from the optimum. Keeping Gmail and Google Calendar open in your browser should not be how we'll do email in 10 years.
- It gets lost: Gmail being just an open tab in your browser means that it will get lost among many other tabs and browser windows that are open. As I'm writing this blog entry, I have 11 tabs open in Firefox.
- No notifications: Unless you install separate tools, Gmail can't notify you of new important messages that come in. I'm not a fan of push email as it increases hyperactivity, but some level of notification, especially for meetings approaching in Google Calendar would be useful.
- No integration into your workflow. Clicking mailto links doesn't work. There's no spot on your screen that says "email". There's no right-click send for documents.
Should Gmail Become Outlook?Should the Gmail become a desktop client Outlook? No. I think that would be a step back, not forward. I imagine the ideal setup to be like Tweetie's desktop client. An icon sits in your desktop bar and gently lights up when new things arrive. (Update: Mailplane and Fluid have similar functionality, but only for the Mac).
Here's how I imagine the optimal desktop webmail experience:
- Always on: It's not a tab you launch in your browser. It starts when your computer starts and it's on while you're working.
- Smart notifications: Rather than showing a toast notification or playing a chime sound for each email that arrives, it would know about the relative importance of messages and infer from your behavior if it's OK to interrupt you. There's plenty of research about both importance and notifications that still needs to make it into the real world.
- Keeps a copy of all your messages: I think reMail demonstrates how powerful it is to have all your mail on your phone. If you have your mail on your phone, why can't you have it on your desktop? Offline Gmail is headed the right way. In my ideal client, its features would become standard.
Making real progress in email clients is hard. It's easy to add new widgets, helper utilities, notifiers, and spam bots. But it's hard to move the needle on the fundamental paradigms - how do we read, check, search, and organize. Moving Gmail away from the browser into an always-on background app seems comparatively easy. The things I mentioned could probably be done by a third party - it doesn't need to be Google. Please, let's get this done.