This conversation launched when Gmail announced its offline mode and has been swirling around: See Manjoo (summary: “Gmail is great!”), Mrgan (summary: “No drag and drop, blecch”), and now Alex Payne’s The Problem With Email Clients.
Web or Native? · We as a profession totally don’t have consensus about what is best delivered through a browser, what belongs in a native client, and whether there’s a space in between for “Rich Internet Applications”. I keep proposing that the difference is this: any application in which you might engage in creativity deserves a compiled native version. For me, email totally qualifies.
Having said that, Gmail is really very good, for what it is, and it’s important because of the new things it has brought to our conversation about how to send messages using a computer. I have two further pieces of evidence:
First, Alex remarks, as though it’s self-evident, that the Big Deal about Gmail is the way it does “conversations”. I’ll be honest; that hadn’t even occurred to me, and while I suppose it’s nice, wouldn’t pull me away from Mail.app, Thunderbird, or whatever. For me, the big deal about Gmail is the notion of “Archiving”; hit the “Y” key and the message is out of your face; but still back there somewhere in the cloud so you can find it later when you need it. I want this a dozen times a day when I’m using a “real” mailer.
Here’s the other anomaly. On my Android G1, there’s a “native” Gmail program and a Webkit-based browser. I stopped using the native version because it mis-used the network, wasted scarce storage space, and the browser version is really very good.
The Conclusion · Well, it’s obvious: Three decades into the life of email, we still haven’t figured out the best way to use it.