Little-known beta apps enhance Gmail’s usability

Lincoln spector By Lincoln Spector

While there’s much to like about Gmail, there’s also much that’s missing — such as multiple signatures, hierarchical tags, and the ability to embed pictures as part of your mail.

You might be surprised to learn that Gmail actually does support those features, and about 50 more, in a beta program called Gmail Labs.

Each lab adds something to Gmail, and some are truly worthwhile. Installing preproduction software is usually a bit dicey, but using Web-based beta products doesn’t carry much risk. A Gmail lab might break, but it won’t damage your PC.

The labs are browser-neutral; I’ve used the same ones in Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome without any problems. Start Labs by going to your Gmail settings and clicking the Labs tab. On the Labs Settings page, enable the individual apps you want to try. Once you have saved the changes, a small green beaker will appear in the upper-right bar on your Gmail screen. (See Figure 1.) Click it from any Gmail window to add or disable Labs.

Gmail labs page
Figure 1. The Gmail Labs page, accessed by clicking the little green beaker (circled in yellow), is where you enable and disable Gmail’s new beta e-mail tools.

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Lincoln Spector

About Lincoln Spector

Lincoln Spector writes about computers, home theater, and film and maintains two blogs: Answer Line at PCWorld.com and Bayflicks.net. His articles have appeared in CNET, InfoWorld, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other publications.