Gmail webmail is apparently more and more popular in France. This is not surprising, there are a lot of good things in Gmail. But Gmail is not perfect neither, and certain features (or lack thereof) are really annoying. In the following, I try to list reasons to use Gmail... or not.

Good things in Gmail

  1. Secure. Secure access (using HTTPS) is available using httpS:// or by choosing Always use https in Settings > General > Browser connection. That way, you are sure nobody can read your email while you access it in public places, which is the primary use of a webmail. The fetching of emails over POP3 or IMAP is compulsorily made over SSL, providing the same confidentiality;
  2. Lots of space. It was the first webmail to offer one gigabyte of storage per mailbox. Now you can store more than 7 gigabytes of emails! That was one and still is a primary reason to use Gmail for me: not being limited by the amount of email you receive, even if you are subscribed to zillions of mailing lists and you receive tons of spams;
  3. Very good anti-spam filter. The anti-spam feature of Gmail is rarely making the wrong choice. And when it wrongly classify a spam as legitimate email or vice-versa, you can easily correct it;
  4. Keyboard shortcuts. Very efficient to use the keyboard to navigate within your emails;
  5. Destination indicators. Gmail puts >> when the email is addressed only to you and > when you are part of the recipients. Very useful to determine at first glance important emails from the others;
  6. No advertising. Well, no advertising if you use Google Customize Firefox extension. ;-) But in any case, the ads are not very intrusive and are not annoying;
  7. Relatively fast. Gmail is quite fast, if you have a fast enough web access. And in case the working conditions are really bad, you can always switch to plain HTML webmail;
  8. Efficient search. Gmail is using the same seach features as Google search engine: by default it looks for entered words in all your emails, within all parts of them (subject, content, etc.). If needed, you can refine your search using specialized keywords. Very efficient!
  9. Virtual folders. In Gmail, there is no folders like in other email readers. Gmail is using a set of labels that are applied to your email according filtering rules you defined. That way, the same email can appear in several folders;

Bad things in Gmail

  1. No guaranty to keep your emails. You have no guarantee that Google will keep your emails and let you access them. At any time, you can lose everything! That's why I fetch my emails and delete them from my Gmail account are regular intervals;
  2. Gmail is proprietary. You don't have access to its source code, you can't modify it to suite your needs. And you are dependent on the willing of Google for improvements (or lack of improvements);
  3. No threading. Emails are grouped by their subject and within a subject they are displayed in a linear way, without indentation corresponding to real threading. It is very, very annoying when you read a high traffic mailing list. However Gmail generates the correct threading headers (References: field). It only brake them when you change the subject, which is a bit annoying for power users but a real plus for regular ones (those users that are taking an old email, doing a Reply to all and just changing the subject and the content);
  4. Variable width font. Maybe I'm too old, but for me emails (or at least text emails) should be displayed with fixed width fonts. Gmail is using a variable width font, very annoying to see ASCII pictures or formatted emails;
  5. Poorly documented. You have ton of help pages, but I had hard times looking what I was searching for. Well, at least last time I looked at them.

Its proprietary aspect and the lack of guarantee would be good reasons to switch to another webmail, based on free software. Unfortunately, it takes time to setup a webmail and, apparently, all free software web mails (RoundCube, SquirrelMail, ...) are far from providing enough features and/or are not very reliable. That is why I am still using Gmail but I am not so proud of it.