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Gmail Gives in, Offers Up Traditional Three-Pane Mail Interface

Gmail's new wide screen view

Google has been experimenting with the Gmail interface for some time, with the “Priority Inbox” and “Important First” views available alongside the familiar old list view. Now Gmail is going old school, introducing a new “preview pane” layout reminiscent of desktop e-mail clients like Thunderbird, Outlook or Apple Mail. The new option will also look familiar to those using Gmail on the iPad.

To try out the new preview pane, head to Gmail Labs and enable the aptly named Preview Pane feature. Reload Gmail and you’ll see the new widescreen version of the preview pane. To see the more traditional horizontally-split pane just click the toggle button in the upper right-hand corner of the mail view (which also has an option for no split when you want to turn off the preview pane).

When you’re reading your email in the new preview pane view, there’s a three-second delay before previewed messages are marked as read. You can adjust that timing on Gmail’s settings page.

While Yahoo Mail, Hotmail and just about every other web-based email interface have long offered a three pane view, Gmail has stubbornly resisted. For those that have been waiting for Gmail to at least acknowledge something beyond a list view of messages, well, your day has finally arrived.

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