Google has made 13 new features available to users of its Gmail service, although you do have to dig into the 'labs' settings in order to enable them. Remember also that Gmail is one of those long-term Beta test services that Google seems to specialise in (although word is that it will be coming out of Beta real soon now) so in effect, as these new features are in the experimental labs bit of the configuration settings, you will be getting what might best be referred to as Beta Beta test functionality. I think.
Anyway, that slight grip apart, what is actually on offer from Google here? Well, there's the Quick Link tool that adds a box to the left column enabling single-click access to any bookmarkable URL directly within Google Mail, which is rather neat. It means you can save frequent searches, important individual messages and the like. Then there is the slightly less impressive Superstars feature which, err, adds additional star icons - like we really need those. The Pictures in Chat function is pretty self-explanatory, as is the always annoying Random Signature feature. OK, so that's 4 down so far, 3 of which I could easily do without. Moving on then, we have the Fixed Width Font function, hooray, which at lasts adds an option to reply drop-down menu to view a message in a fixed width font and display it properly at that. I also like the Custom Keyboard Shortcuts enabling custom mapping of these useful things. The Mouse Gestures are, as always, a gimmick I can do without. Do I really need to be able to hold right-click and move the mouse to the left to go to the next conversation when a keyboard shortcut or a 'next' arrow serves me perfectly well? I don't think so. Which means the score is now 4 to 3 in favour of not needed added functionality, and leaves us 6 more features to help swing the balance around in the direction of a good upgrade.
And we are off to a good start with the Signature Tweaks which lets you put your sig before quoted text in a reply and removes the "--" line, although the latter is probably not wise as it is a long time convention to use this as a signature marker. The Custom Date Formats are neat as well, adding options for allowing date and time format to be independent of language. It means you can display dates and times as you want as not as someone else thinks you want them. 5 to 4 in favour of useful functionality, but can it last?
No, not really. I mean, whose idea was it to add Old Snakey, a stupid and pointless (not to mention blocky and boring) game of snake into Gmail? All even at 5 to 5 then. Thankfully, although not exactly ground breaking stuff, the final 3 added features are worthy enough to be considered useful: Muzzle (hides friends' status messages), Email Addict (blocks screen for 15 minutes while at same time making you invisible in chat) and Hide Unread Counts (does what it says on the box.) Which, by my math, makes it a lucky 13 for Google with a final score of 8 useful additions against 5 lumps of useless padding.
Interestingly, Gmail product manager Keith Coleman agrees that there are "some things in here we think are probably bad ideas" by which he means that snake game. Still, it's a good sign that Gmail functionality is being opened up like this. Currently it is Google Labs engineers adding the new stuff for testing, but ultimately the idea is to allow 3rd party developers to join in...