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9/28/2010
06:25 PM
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Google Provides Kill Switch For Gmail Threading

Conversation View, a feature that set Gmail apart from Hotmail and Yahoo Mail, soon will be optional.

Addressing perhaps the longest standing feature request for Gmail, Google on Wednesday plans to allow Gmail users to disable Conversation View and see their messages in chronological order.

Since it was launched, Gmail has grouped related messages into a single conversation or thread. Rather than ordering messages chronologically like Microsoft Outlook or competing online e-mail services, Gmail assembles messages and associated replies into a single entry that expands when selected to reveal the entire conversation.

Some Gmail users love Conversation View and others can't stand it. The Google Gmail Help Forum includes dozens of threads with thousands of posts from those who object to threaded conversations. There's even a Facebook group called "No to Gmail Conversation View."

For Google, the change represents a concession to the reality of the enterprise market: Business people tend to be familiar with Outlook and those who leave it behind to 'go Google' want the option to go back to the way they used to do things. To be sure, plenty of consumers have asked for the ability to disable Conversation View too, but Google's paying customers appear to be the ones who have pushed the company to address the issue.

As if to demonstrate which constituency really motivated Google to change things, a draft announcement to be posted to Google's enterprise blog on Wednesday includes a quote from Russ Midford, senior information systems engineer at Sanmina-SCI.

"I personally prefer threaded conversations, but as an administrator who still needs to support some long-time Outlook users on Gmail, the unthreaded option is like gold," he said.

Google says that it plans to roll out the ability to disable Conversation View over the next few days. Users of administered versions of Google Apps will need to have their administrator select the “Enable pre-release features” option in the Google Apps control panel.

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