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The standard (free) Gmail package offers close to 7 Gigabytes of storage space (and that’s increasing regularly), meaning that you really shouldn’t have to delete emails at all. If your mail contains masses of graphics or heavyweight attachments, rather than sifting through mails and hitting delete on a regular basis, you can simply purchase more space (http://www.google.com/support/accounts/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=65431). Upgrade to Premium Google Apps for $50 a year and not only can you get the convenience of matching your email with your domain name (i.e. firstname.lastname@example.org), you also get a staggering 25 Gigabytes of space, again with options to buy more if absolutely necessary. Aside from all this space, Google offers a number of features that make it fluid and completely usable.
Gmail doesn’t have folders – it has labels. They are a bit tricky at first, but when you get the hang of them, they are invaluable. Whereas a folder has only one title, you can add multiple labels to email in Gmail. Thus an email from your accountant about a particular sales account (‘Company X’) can be labeled ‘sales’, ‘accountant’ and ‘Company X’. Search for all three of these keywords and out of the many thousands of emails you have in storage only a handful will appear.
Gmail also has a wonderfully elaborate (yet easy to use) way of setting up filters that apply labels to emails. The default label is ‘inbox’. Simply click ‘inbox’ off and an email becomes archived and unseen, yet retrievable through the labels applied using filters. Gmail also offers excellent spam protection, but if spam does creep into your inbox you simply need to click on the ‘Report Spam’ button and the offending email is deleted. When the same email tries to get into the inbox of another user’s account, it is automatically given a spam label.
So, with masses of space available, ease of use and excellent spam protection, why hasn’t Gmail become the email of choice for business? There are a couple of key reasons. Very strangely indeed – almost unbelievably – Gmail email does not allow HTML signatures. A signature is the bit at the bottom of the email that shows you a company’s logo, gives you its address and links to its website. Gmail signatures do not show images, and they are text only, meaning you can’t add a link to your website from the name of your company, and to be sure recipients see a link you have to type out a full URL (with the http:// prefix) and hope all your recipients are using an email client that permits HTML.
Because Gmail does not allow signatures, it also commits the mortal sin of not allowing the user to insert predefined text into an email before sending it. Why do you need this? Let’s say you sell real estate and you are dealing with six properties, three of which are now sold. With a desktop based email client like Microsoft Outlook, you can simply type out a message (“Thank you for your enquiry but this property is now sold”) and insert it into an email at the click of a button when your reply requires it. Gmail forces you to type the message out in full, which of course, under certain circumstances, could be quite often and a genuine pain. What then is a business owner to do without these key functionalities?
Luckily, solutions are available that overcome Gmail’s shortcomings. Unfortunately, overcoming these issues might mean you have to change your browser, and worse still, you might have to spend a few dollars (ouch!!!). First signatures. Although Google now has Chrome and Microsoft still (as of going to press anyway) has the leading browser in Internet Explorer, it is the Mozilla Open Source browser ‘Firefox’ (http://www.mozilla.com/firefox/) that has come to Gmail’s rescue.
Firefox is more than a browser – it’s an institution that is followed with a level of fervor often reserved for political parties, religions or football clubs. It is supported by legions of developers who create a range of ‘add-ons’ and ‘extensions’ that extend Firefox’s capabilities in often unbelievable ways. Installation is a simple process – go to the Mozilla website (https://addons.mozilla.org/) and find the add-ons you need, then click on the ‘Add to Firefox’ button. Occasionally, you with encounter an add-on or extension that requires you to register for access, and that’s the case for ‘Blank Canvas Gmail Signatures’ (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/7757) – the solution you need to overcome Gmail’s signature shortfalls. Although at the time this article was written, this particular add-on was tagged as ‘experimental’, there is no reason to worry about adding it to Firefox. Once added, it totally resolves the signature issue, allowing only your imagination as the boundary to what you put at the foot of your emails! Considering it is completely free, it really is a total solution, but with it you will be almost entirely bound to Firefox. That isn’t such a bad thing though. You now need to address inserting text.
There are a number of free and paid ‘hotkey’ solutions available. Basically, amongst a range of features they allow you to assign text to keyboard combinations. Thus, you can assign “Please respond as soon as possible” to Alt+P - press the ‘Alt’ button and ‘P’ at the same time and the text will appear in the document you are writing (including emails). Alternatively, you can use your mouse to choose from a list of phrases. Probably the best one we have found is Comfort Keys - Hotkey Manager with Clipboard Manager and On-Screen Keyboard (http://www.comfort-software.com/hotkey-manager.html). It comes in two versions – Lite and Pro ($19.95 and $29.95 respectively at the time of going to press), but if you are only buying it to ensure you can add text to Gmail, then the Lite version is quite enough. The only problem with it is remembering it’s there. For instance you might start using Microsoft Word and use ‘Shift’ + ‘E’ for a capital ‘E’ only to find (or not find as the case may be) that you have inadvertently added two lines of entirely irrelevant text. That aside, it really is great solution – totally unobtrusive and responsive.
Employing these two solutions, Gmail rivals Outlook for capability AND ease of use, and it becomes a GENUINE business email solution.
John Hughes is Web Editor of HostSearch.com (http://www.hostsearch.com), the Internet’s leading website dedicated to web hosts and their products and services.