Gmail’s web interface has long offered themes, allowing you to change its appearance to suit your whims, but choices were limited to the few canned options Google made available. The color schemes in Gmail themes are still limited to Google’s picks, but now Google is allowing users to upload their own images to create custom backgrounds.
To try out the new options head to Gmail’s settings menu and click the Themes link. Then look for the Custom Themes section where you’ll see a link to “Change your background image.”
To add a custom background you can upload your own images directly, select from your Google+ photos or point Gmail to an online image with a URL. There’s also a featured photos section you can browse and search for some high-quality images.
The new custom images aren’t going to change the way you use Gmail by any means, but if you’re like us and you differentiate accounts by appearance, themes aren’t just eye candy, they’re practical, helping you immediately know which account you’re logged into.
If you aren’t seeing the new Custom Themes section just yet, be patient; as with most Google updates this one is rolling out gradually. In the mean time you can see themes in action in this video from Google:
You can never have too many backups of your data. Unfortunately, when it comes to web-based e-mail like Gmail, backing up your mail isn’t always the easiest thing to do. The web is littered with tales of lost Gmail, whether because Google shuts down your account, an attacker destroys it or something else that’s never even crossed your mind happens and then — poof — your mail is gone.
That’s where Gmvault can help. Gmvault will help make sure that even if the unthinkable happens and your Gmail data is suddenly gone, you’ll be able to recover thanks to a solid backup system. Gmvault is a simple-to-use command-line Python app that will login, sync and back up your entire Gmail account on your local machine. Currently Gmvault is beta software. I’ve been using it for nearly a week and haven’t had any problems, but bear in mind that there may be some bugs.
You can accomplish the same thing with a desktop e-mail client, provided you remember to open it every now and then. But with Gmvault and simple cron script you can make sure your backup is updated every day. Throw in a line to move your database to a new location when the backup is done and you’ll have incremental snapshot backups of your Gmail account.
Gmvault will encrypt your saved e-mail repository to keep it safe from prying eyes. That means you can use Dropbox or similar web-based backup and syncing systems without worrying that your personal information is exposed.
Another interesting feature in Gmvault is the ability to restore e-mails to any Gmail account. That makes creating additional Gmail-based backup accounts a snap. Just create a new Gmail account, select your current account’s backup and use the restore command to recreate your mailboxes. All attributes such as Gmail labels are preserved and recreated in the new account.
Gmvault is a shell script available for Windows, OS X and Linux. Head on over to GitHub and grab a copy today so you can start making backups of your Gmail before you need them.
Google has launched an improved version of its offline Gmail web app for Chrome. The updated version can now store up to a month’s worth of email offline.
Since it’s a web app, current users of the Gmail Chrome app will see the new version the next time they open the app. If you’d like to try it out, you can install the Gmail offline app from the Chrome Web Store.
The main new feature in this release is the expanded syncing capability. Offline Gmail for Chrome will now synchronize 7, 14 or 31 days worth of email for use without an internet connection. That’s a considerable step up over the initial release, which only synced the last three to seven days’ worth of email. Mail attachments are now downloaded with messages and available for offline use as well.
Google has also added support for Gmail’s keyboard shortcuts, which means that the app version of Gmail is almost indistinguishable (functionality-wise) from the regular Gmail web page. The main downside is that the app version — and all its offline functionality — still only works in Google’s Chrome web browser.
Google is getting ready to roll out a major redesign of Gmail. The new Gmail features the high-contrast, black-and-white design already seen in Google Docs, Google Reader and Google Calendar. Looks aren’t the only thing changing in Gmail; there’s also a much-improved search interface, better customization features and some new hi-res images for Gmail themes.
Unfortunately, The new Gmail is still rough enough around the edges and, worse, slow enough, that Google might want to consider adding the beta tag back to the Gmail logo.
Google showed off the revamped Gmail interface earlier this year, but the company is now giving users the ability to test it for themselves. If you’d like to try it out, just sign in to Gmail and look for a small “Switch to the new look” button in the lower right corner of your screen.
For now the new look is purely optional and you can switch right back if you don’t like it, but eventually Google does plan to roll out the new version to all Gmail users.
Google’s new look, which is slowly rolling out across all its products is somewhat hit or miss. The black-and-white color scheme and heavy use of white space sometimes feels overdone (witness the reaction to the new Google Reader design), but in Gmail it actually works quite well, eliminating some of the clutter and allowing you to focus more on your actual mail.
One of Gmail's new hires backgrounds
Adjust Gmail to fit your screen
Part of the clutter reduction lies in some new customization features. Gmail now allows you to choose how much white space you want to see. Options range from the default, “Comfortable”, which is quite heavy on the white space, to “Cozy” (roughly the same as the old look) to “Compact,” which squeezes even more messages into list view. The white spacing will also automatically shift if you adjust your screen size with smaller screens getting increasingly compact views.
Another improvement in the new Gmail is a much better search interface. Gmail’s powerful search features have always been a big part of its appeal, but using some of the more powerful elements required memorizing arcane terms and operators. The new Gmail surfaces most of these elements in a handy new search form.
The quick search bar remains the same (and all the old operators still appear to work if you happen to have memorized them all), but a new arrow to the right side of the search box will expand a new search form that offers to search by From, To, Subject, attachment, Date and more. It’s the same search tools as before, but with a much better interface designed to help novice users discover the power of searching.
Conversations in Gmail — the features that originally set Gmail apart from the competition — have received a slight makeover. You’ll now see profiles pictures for your contacts (assuming one is available) and the collapsed view offers a bit more detail than it did before. Of course that also means that conversations take up more vertical space, which can be annoying on smaller screens. Sadly, the various white space settings mentioned above have no effect on the spacing in conversation view.
While the new Gmail looks quite nice — cleaner and often easier to use than its predecessor — the bad news is that the new version can be painfully slow. I tested Gmail using both Opera and Chrome over a fast cable internet connection and routinely encountered long delays when moving from list view to conversation view, or when searching for mail. Even something as simple as loading a few icons sometimes took as long as 20 seconds. The new look isn’t yet an official release, so perhaps the slow speeds are simply kinks in the transition process that Google is working out. If not, expect a mini revolt when Google flips the switch for all users.
Opera users should also be aware that the new Gmail has all kinds of rendering bugs in Opera 11.52 (there were also some obvious bugs in Firefox and even Chrome).
If you’d like to see what the fuss is about, but don’t want to commit to the new interface just yet, check out the video below. (Also note that if you do turn on the new look, at the moment you can still revert to old by click the new gear menu and selecting “revert to the old look”.)
Offline Gmail is back. Originally built around Google’s Gears plugin, the company announced earlier this year that it was pulling the Gears-based feature and rewriting it to use HTML5 and web standards. Now offline Gmail is back (along with offline support for Google Docs and Calendar) and no longer requires the Gears browser add-on.
Offline Gmail does, however, require the Google Chrome web browser. In fact, the offline version of Gmail is an entirely separate app you’ll need to install through the Chrome Web Store. The Web Store app is based on the Gmail web app for tablets and uses a widescreen layout that will look familiar to anyone using Gmail on an iPad or the new three-pane mail interface.
Unfortunately, the offline app for Gmail is just that, a separate web app. You won’t be able to use Gmail offline simply by clicking a button in the regular web interface. Rather you’ll need to install the offline Gmail app and switch over to that interface whenever you’re offline.
And that’s not the only downside to this release. Offline Gmail will only give you access to the last three to seven days’ worth of email (the exact amount will vary depending on how many messages you get each day). All of your starred messages will also be available, but beyond that you’re out of luck — there’s no way to, for example, download a specific tag or set of messages for offline use.
Things are even worse in the offline version of Google Docs which, for now, is limited to read-only access — not exactly helpful when you’re trying to finish that report sans wifi.
Google says these issues are temporary and that the offline support is a work in progress, but given the extremely limited functionality one wonders why they were released at all. Of course Google’s motto is release early, release often; clearly they’ve released early, hopefully the often will kick in soon.
In the mean time if you need offline access to your email, we suggest a traditional desktop client.