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3/29/2013
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Gmail's New Compose: 5 Pros and Cons

Introduced as an option, Gmail's new compose will become the default over the next few days. Here's what I like and dislike.

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I consider myself a Gmail pioneer. I started using the service in 2005, when it was invite-only and new enough that I had to spell "Gmail" for people when I gave them my email address.

Gmail has changed a lot since then, not least that the service is now part of a much bigger Google/Google+ ecosystem. I've been a big fan of most changes to the service (especially the option not to nest messages), but one change that has made a big difference in my workaday life has been the new message compose feature.

Google introduced the new interface in October as an option and will roll out the change to all users within the next few days.

Not everyone agrees with me that the change is a good one -- one person I follow on Twitter even called it "pathetic." Whether you love it or hate it, here are three reasons I like Gmail's new compose interface:

1. While composing a message, you can see -- and read -- other messages for reference.

When you click on Compose from within Gmail, the New Message frame opens up at the lower right of your screen, enabling you to see, open and read other messages. For me, this is a huge boon. I multitask like crazy, and the more insight I have into my email messages, the better. Often I will start writing a message and think to myself, "What did so-and-so say about such-and-such?" I can go through one, two or however many messages I need for context while keeping the compose message window open and entering data accordingly.

[ Are you a Gmail die-hard? Think twice about Windows 8. Read Gmail Users Cut Off In Windows 8. ]

2. You can work on multiple emails at once.

Did I mention that I tend to do several things at once? I've found that the ability to compose multiple emails from one screen works well in a variety of situations. For example, when I need to share the same info among multiple people, but with a slightly different spin/context for each, Gmail's new compose functionality lets me easily put the messages side by side to compare, contrast and check details.

3. Drafts can be minimized.

It's not uncommon for me to start a message and then move on to something else ("Squirrel!"). With the old interface I would save the message as a draft (or have it saved for me), and then have to go into my Drafts queue to retrieve it. Would I sometimes forget I had started the message in the first place? Sure. With the new interface I can minimize the message to the bottom right of my screen to serve as a reminder when I'm ready to get back to it.

Now, all of this is not to say that I like everything about the new compose feature. Indeed, there are a couple of things that I hope Google will change moving forward. Here they are:

1. Some features are hidden.

Google says the new Gmail interface is all about being clean and streamlined, but some say -- and I would agree -- that it's clean and streamlined to a fault. For example, when forwarding an email, you can edit the subject line, but to do so you need to know to click on the drop-down button next to the reply icon. The same goes for CC and BCC, as well as for many of Gmail's editing features, which you must click to access.

2. Email canvas is smaller.

While I really like the ability to see my inbox queue while I'm composing other messages, I do kind of miss the more expansive email composition canvas that the old interface provided, especially when crafting a message that includes graphics. There is a way to "pop out" the compose window for a bigger writing space, but good luck finding it. (I kid -- you can get to it by clicking on the arrow at the upper right of the New Message window.)

For me, the pros of the new compose feature far outweigh the cons. And while the pros don't exactly represent a seismic shift in technology, they have made it easier for me to get work done. Relatively speaking, that is a kind of seismic shift.

What do you think about the new Gmail compose feature? Please let us know in the comments section below.

Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.

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Melanie Rodier
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Melanie Rodier,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/1/2013 | 3:20:10 PM
re: Gmail's New Compose: 5 Pros and Cons
Like every change to Facebook or other social networks, it takes a little getting used to. A lot of people will probably grumble about it because people are resistant to any change. I agree it's not a seismic shift in technology. In fact, it feels like a small change that happened because it was time for "a change." I do think though that the fact that you have to search out how to make the compose window bigger as well as other features, is a definite con. After all, gmail and other google products are great to use because they are so intuitive.
Byurcan
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Byurcan,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/1/2013 | 3:36:52 PM
re: Gmail's New Compose: 5 Pros and Cons
I fall on the side of people who don't like the new compose. My biggest gripe is the smaller email canvass, but your point about some of the features being hidden is also a good one.
The ability to be writing/working on multiple emails at once doesn't really matter to me, it's not something I ever do so I don't count it as a plus.
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
4/1/2013 | 4:15:04 PM
re: Gmail's New Compose: 5 Pros and Cons
I bet this is exactly what Google employees say in their meetings, convincing themselves that they're doing the right thing and patting themselves on the back, but it's wrong.

The new compose is objectively inferior to the old one, in a number of ways, and Google's disdain for their users, forcing us to downgrade against our will, is driving people away. It should be an option, not shoved down our throats.
WashingtonNancy
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WashingtonNancy,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/1/2013 | 5:12:56 PM
re: Gmail's New Compose: 5 Pros and Cons
There is nothing good for my purposes about the new compose "feature." Doesn't work with Microsoft - so when it auto deletes my entire message control z doesn't help. Sends when I'm not finished composing. No way to contact google to complain. I too have been user since the invite only days. Now looking for new email provider. Happy to pay to be rid of new "features."
bropershuilman
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bropershuilman,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/1/2013 | 5:22:49 PM
re: Gmail's New Compose: 5 Pros and Cons
I guess I'm a little confused about the "Doesn't work with Microsoft" remark. My primary systems are Linux, but I have a MacBook Pro from work and a Windows system at home and GMail works equally well on all of them. That may be because I use Chrome (from the first pre-release), though it worked equally well in Firefox before that.

I'm also an early adopter (I just searched and discovered my first GMail emails were sent in August of 2004) and have always turned on just about everything Google provides to us, at least to test it out. I'm a heavy Labs user and have a pretty customized GMail interface. I really like the new Compose (which I turned on as soon as it was available) for the reasons mentioned in the article. I really don't have any issues at all with it otherwise.

I agree it was non-intuitive to figure out how to add someone as a cc: or change the subject (or the sender, since I have multiple accounts linked), but the first thing I thought to do was simply click in that area and, sure enough, everything was exposed. Maybe I'm unique, but it worked for me without requiring a Google search to figure it out.
Leo Regulus
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Leo Regulus,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/1/2013 | 7:55:50 PM
re: Gmail's New Compose: 5 Pros and Cons
Hmmm... You must be my sister. I've been using the Compose 'feature' for a little while. I concur with your comments and would like to add one. You can now easily use your contacts function while composing. Before writing this I ran an 'acid test' by opening my Win 8 VM from my Win 7 primary. In Win 8, opened Firefox which I have set up with a home screen tab in Google Mail. I 'popped' the compose box out of the browser, then browsed my contacts without losing my compose e-mail to draft. Then, successfully sent e-mail. No issues. Really would like to see Google add the 'contacts' and 'tasks' up to the overhead DDM bar.
Have a good day!
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
4/1/2013 | 8:39:57 PM
re: Gmail's New Compose: 5 Pros and Cons
Those are new features? Email clients like Thunderbird can do that since forever...and they can do that even offline! And TB works fine with a gmail address. Why rely on the cloud when there are real client apps?
Cara Latham
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Cara Latham,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/2/2013 | 2:28:46 PM
re: Gmail's New Compose: 5 Pros and Cons
To me, the change is minor. I've also been a Gmail users since the invite-only days. Maybe this is because I am so used to Facebook making much more dramatic changes that a minor change elsewhere seems to be much more readily acceptable -- as if to say, "At least it wasn't as dramatic as..." But I do agree with the idea that the changes should have been more intuitive, as some comments have already mentioned.
AndrewRoberts
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AndrewRoberts,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/2/2013 | 10:32:54 PM
re: Gmail's New Compose: 5 Pros and Cons
Thanks for the great analysis!

At Textbox.io have developed a browser extension which solves a lot of the complaints with the new Gmail Compose and lets you get the best of both worlds.

I have blogged about our solution at http://bit.ly/12dKoc8 and posted a video at http://youtu.be/HzOGrdpsnmg
pwp3
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pwp3,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/3/2013 | 6:17:21 AM
re: Gmail's New Compose: 5 Pros and Cons
What a stinker! New Gmail Compose looks like a clumsy, dysfunctional beta-1 implementation.

Google, what are you doing? Is composing on a tiny window in the bottom corner some genius 15 year old's brilliant idea of progress, to make Gmail look like a messaging app?

In Google Apps which is pitched at paying business users, this is a killer. Please fix this deeply unpopular anomaly immediately. Don't be evil...you promised
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