I’ve been beta-testing Google’s GMail for a while, and I have to say that it is incredibly well-executed. The user interface is intuitive and genuinely innovative. Features like organizing mail by labels instead of folders, viewing messages in context of larger conversations, and the amazing search functionality are everything that they should be… and everything is just incredibly fast. I always complain about web-based applications because they tend to “feel” less responsive because of the latency created by a round trip to the server… but with GMail (and a decent broadband connection) I usually can’t tell what’s done on the client and what requires a round trip to the server– it’s that fast. Even on a dial-up connection it is very usable.
A gigabyte of storage might be a nice way to get press, but it isn’t the only reason that this service will get attention long-term. It will get attention because it is different.
Hotmail (in it’s current MSN 9 iteration) is actually quite good… but it strives to work just like every other email client, and hide the fact that it’s web-based. GMail, on the other hand, takes a long, hard look at how we interact with email and how that process could be improved. Microsoft will respond, of course… and you know who will win: that’s right… the consumer. This stuff is going to get better and better.
One downside with GMail so far: the spam filtering isn’t as good as the functionality in Hotmail or Outlook (let alone my personal favorite, SpamCop.net). However, it’s still in beta so I’ll reserve judgement until it releases. I do think that in the long run, Google is well positioned to invent a better mousetrap in terms of spam filtering, given their text handling prowess.
Not sure when GMail releases. When it does, though… you should definitely check it out.