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.

Debra Donston-Miller, Contributor

March 29, 2013

4 Min Read

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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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About the Author(s)

Debra Donston-Miller


Freelance writer Debra Donston-Miller was previously editor of eWEEK and executive editorial manager of eWEEK Labs. She can be reached at [email protected].

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