File Under: Browsers, Web Apps

Gmail Adds More Drag and Drop Features, But Only in Chrome

Gmail users can now drag e-mail attachments out of the browser window and drop them onto the desktop — if they’re using Google Chrome.

Back in April, Gmail added the ability to drag attachments from the desktop onto open e-mails in the browser. This feature works on most modern browsers, like Firefox and Safari. Now, the same feature works in reverse, so you can grab an attachment and just drag it to the desktop without having to click the “Download” link.

This enhancement is only available to users of Google’s Chrome browser. This is an indication that it’s using some Google-specific sauce to power the interaction. Chrome uses the same WebKit rendering engine as Safari, but a different chunk of code to execute JavaScript, and the new feature doesn’t work in Safari. It does work on the Mac version of Chrome (in the Beta and Canary channels, at least) so it’s not limited to Windows users.

Browser-specific features are considered by some to be a no-no in the world of open web development. Some developers feel that new web features should work in all browsers equally to create a unified user experience. But there is an argument to be made that developers should be encouraged to innovate wherever they can as often as they can. It’s a way to accelerate the growth of web apps and to nudge other browser vendors into adopting new features. Besides, the standards upon which these new capabilities are based — HTML5 and its related technologies — are moving targets that are still being drafted, and if developers were to wait for all browsers to adopt all aspects of an unfinished standard, they wouldn’t be able to freely experiment new features.

Gmail continues to roll out new features steadily, and has become an exemplar of the iterative model for web app development. New features appear every few weeks, sometimes in one or two browsers at a time. The mobile version of Gmail is also being updated frequently to take advantage of new capabilities in the Android and Mobile Safari browsers as well as the iPad’s larger screen size.

The new drag-and-drop feature in Gmail was made available Wednesday for Chrome users. When you open an e-mail and hover over the attachment, you’ll see a little tooltip that says “Click to view OR drag to your desktop to save.” If you drag it to your desktop, the file appears on your desktop. If you click the link, it gets dumped into whatever you’ve chosen as your standard downloads folder.

It also works with Gmail’s auto-archive feature — if somebody sends you a bunch of photos, Gmail gives you the option of downloading all of them as a single Zip archive. You can drag that “Download all” link to the desktop and Gmail will Zip everything for you on the fly.

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