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Google upgrades Gmail interface, now less 'drafty'

Shifting email towards instant messaging

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Google has begun a series of upgrades to its Gmail user interface, starting with a "compose and reply experience" that brings email composition much closer to an instant messaging format.

When you're writing an email and you need to reference another message, the current system of saving to draft, searching for the new email, getting the information, and then reopening the original draft, is a pain in the neck, Google product manager Phil Sharp points out in a blog post. El Reg forum users have been pointing this out for some time.

The new function will give you a choice when the Compose button is hit of a floating email window, similar to that used by Google's IM client. This leaves the inbox view in the background, but it's still usable to search for and open other emails in a similar manner as needed. Attachments, text, and email addresses can then be pulled into the original draft.

"This makes it easy to reference any other emails without ever having to close your draft," Sharp writes. "You can even do a search or keep an eye on new mail as it comes in. And because the compose window works the same way as chats, you can write multiple messages at once and minimize a message to finish it later."

GMail update

Google Talk users may find this familiar (click to enlarge)

The new message pane could best be described as functional, with basic formatting tools for the moment, and the pane expands to fit the amount of information needed, to save on-screen acreage. The Save Now button is gone, since everything's auto-saved, and with each email recipient you can start a new email string with a click on their address.

Google is going to roll out the feature to some users within the next 48 hours, a spokeswoman told El Reg, and Google Apps customers on the scheduled release track will see the link in approximately two weeks.

Over the next couple of months, Google will add more features to the Gmail composition windows, including canned responses, inserting emoticons and event invitations, printing and label-generating options, and a read receipt alert option for Apps customers – so HR will know you've scanned the latest corporate missive. ®

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