Technology Column: Get More Out of Gmail with Google Labs

July 17, 2013 

When it comes to email, there are essentially two platforms that businesses use: Microsoft Outlook or Gmail. While Outlook is a solid platform, Gmail is quickly gaining followers because it has a number of useful features. Gmail users may not know it, but there are a number of experimental features in the Labs section of the platform that, when enabled, make the platform even more useful.

What exactly is Labs? Google Labs, and more specifically the version associated with Gmail, is a program where users can activate and use experimental and new features. Many of the innovations found in Labs are useful and bring a lot of extra functionality to the platform.

You can access Labs by:

1. Logging into Gmail.

2. Pressing the Cog in the top-right, and selecting Settings.

3. Clicking on Labs in the window that opens. It will be in the white menu bar that goes across the screen.

You can also access Labs by going to: https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#settings/labs as long as you are logged in.

All the different features are shown when you scroll down. If you find one you think sounds interesting, or would like to use, click the Enable button, scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on Save Changes. Gmail will then reload and the new feature should be activated.

Here are four features that improve Gmail. You can find these by going to Labs, and entering the feature's name in the search bar beside Search for a lab:.

1) Custom Keyboard Shortcuts

This function gives you

the ability to set custom keyboard shortcuts. You can also remap existing shortcuts so they better suit your preference. e.g., you can set a shortcut where you press Shift+F to forward a message in a new window. Or you can change the default shortcut for Reply All to any key you want. When you enable this function, you will be able to access and change shortcuts by:

• Clicking on the Cog from any Gmail window.

• Selecting Settings.

• Clicking on Keyboard Shortcuts and changing the shortcuts as you like.

• Pressing Save Changes.

2) Unread message icon

This feature will add a counter to the Gmail tab in your browser. The counter hovers over the Gmail icon, and displays how many new emails you have in your inbox. It works on Chrome (version 6 and later), FireFox (version 2 and later), and Opera. If you are looking for a way to stay on top of emails in your inbox, while getting other work done, this feature should help.

3) Preview Pane

While Gmail is popular, it isn't necessarily the best for users receiving a high number of emails each day, especially because you have to click on each email to read the contents. Preview Pane is a feature that makes reading your emails quicker. When you enable this feature you will see that your inbox has now been divided into three parts, with your emails in the middle. When you click on an email it will open in the new preview pane on the right-hand side of the window, allowing you to read your email without opening it fully.

4) Canned Responses

If you find yourself adding the same response to multiple emails, why not create one response to use for the same question and save yourself a bit of time. This feature allows you to do exactly that. When you enable it, you can develop a response by:

• Finding an email with a question, comment, etc. that you find yourself writing the same response to.

• Pressing Reply and writing your reply in the email.

• Pressing the downward facing black arrow at the bottom-right of the message, and hovering your mouse over Canned responses.

• Clicking on New Canned response... under Save.

• Adding a name for the response and pressing OK.

This will save the response for future use. The next time you get a similar email, press Reply followed by the downward facing black arrow. Hover your mouse over Canned responses and select your chosen response name under Insert. The message should be automatically placed in the email body. You can then press Send.

There are many useful features of Gmail that are making it increasingly popular, and can certainly help your business can get more out of Gmail.

David Spire, president and CEO of United Systems, holds multiple professional certifications, including Microsoft's Small Business Specialist. He can be reached at 941.721.6423 or by e-mail at david.spire@uscomputergroup.com.

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