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THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO GMAIL / HOW-TO GEEK SCHOOL

How-To Geek

Lesson 10: Power Tips and Gmail Labs

Gmail Guide 10

We wrap up our How-To Geek School series on Gmail by uncovering a few power user tips and closing things out with Gmail Labs features.

Load Gmail Faster by Switching to the Basic Version

If you’re accessing Gmail over a slow internet connection, it may take a few minutes to load. However, you can load Gmail faster by switching to a basic version of Gmail that allows you to carry out simple actions.

To access the basic version of Gmail, simply add “?ui=html” to the standard Gmail URL. The URL should be the following:

https://mail.google.com/mail/?ui=html

Here’s how the basic Gmail interface looks. Labels are available along the left side, and actions are available on the buttons at the top of the list of messages. You can apply labels to your messages in the basic view but you can’t move messages into labels like folders.

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Create Instant Disposable Gmail Addresses Using Aliases

Say you want to sign up on an email list, but you’re afraid of your email being released to other spamming sites as well. You can easily use an alias of your Gmail address to keep track of where emails come from.

For example, if you want to sign up for a free eBook newsletter, you can create an alias of your email, “your.email+free.ebooks@gmail.com.” All messages sent to the alias are delivered to your main email, “your.email@gmail.com.” You’ll be able to tell where emails come from and whether your email address is being sold to other sites.

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You can setup filters to automatically delete these messages, apply labels to them, skip the inbox and move them directly to labels, or forward them to another email account.

Gmail also allows you to create multiple versions of your email address. For example, if John Doe’s main account is johndoe@gmail.com, emails sent to “john.doe@gmail.com,” and “j.ohndoe@gmail.com” will also be received in the same account.

You can create other variations of your main email address using this method – a handy tool if you want to use multiple email aliases to sign up to different web services or newsletters.

Don’t Miss Important Emails with Desktop Notifications

You may have thought that the only way to know you’ve received important messages in your Gmail account is to keep it open in your browser.

However, you can turn on “Desktop Notifications” in Chrome and in Gmail to automatically notify you when new messages arrive.

NOTE: To see notifications from Gmail, you must be signed into Gmail and have Gmail open in your browser, which can be minimized.

Enable Desktop Notifications in Chrome

Websites and web apps can display notifications on your computer desktop. You can tell Chrome to automatically display notifications from all sites or to alert you when a site wants to show you notifications and of course, you can turn notifications off completely.

Before you can get notifications from Gmail, you have to turn on notifications in Chrome. To enable desktop notifications in Chrome, click the “Chrome” menu button and select “Settings” from the drop-down menu.

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The “Settings” screen displays on a new tab. Scroll down to the bottom of the “Settings” screen and click the “Show advanced settings” link.

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More options display at the bottom of the “Settings” screen. In the “Privacy” section, click “Content settings.”

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The “Content settings” dialog box then displays. Scroll down to the “Notifications” section and select one of the first two options to turn on notifications.

The second option, “Ask me when a site wants to show desktop notifications”, is recommended. This prevents you from being nagged with notifications from sites that are not important to you. If you want to get notifications from every site that provides them, select “Allow all sites to show desktop notifications.”

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Click “Done” in the lower-right corner of the dialog box to accept the change.

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To close the “Settings” screen, click the close (“X”) button on the “Settings” tab.

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Turn on Hidden Notifications

The Windows Notification Area is used as the temporary source for notifications. Because some notifications are hidden by default, you may have to change the setting for notifications in Chrome in the Windows Notifications Area.

To unhide Chrome notifications, click the “Show hidden icons” up arrow on the Taskbar and click “Customize” on the popup box.

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On the “Notification Area Icons” dialog box, scroll down to “Google Chrome.” Select “Show icon and notifications” from the drop-down list to the right.

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You may a see a popup saying that this notification is not currently active. Once we turn on notifications in Gmail and receive a new message, the notification will display.

Click OK to accept the change and close the dialog box.

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Enable Desktop Notifications in Gmail

To receive notifications from Gmail when new messages arrive in your inbox without an active browser window open all the time, click the “Settings” gear button and select “Settings” from the drop-down menu.

Select “New mail notifications on” to receive notifications when any new email messages arrive in your inbox. To be notified only when the messages coming in are marked as important, select “Important mail notifications on.”

NOTE: See the Importance ranking and markers topic in Google’s help for more information about marking email as important.

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Scroll down to the bottom of the “Settings” screen and click “Save Changes.”

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Now, whenever you’re working in another tab, or your browser is minimized, you will receive a discrete toast notification in the system tray.

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Set up Input Tools for International Communication

In Lesson 1, we introduced you to the different input tools available in Gmail, such as virtual keyboards and IMEs (input method editors). This feature can be enabled or disabled, and options for the feature selected in the Settings.

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To access the Gmail settings, click the settings gear button and select “Settings” from the drop-down menu. To turn on the input tools, select the “Enable input tools” check box, in the “Language” section at the top of the “General” tab.

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The “Input Tools” dialog box displays. Select a desired input tool in the “All input tools” list on the left and click the right arrow in the middle to move it to the list of “Selected input tools.” These “Selected input tools” will display on the “Input Tools” button when you click the down arrow to access the drop-down menu.

There are different icons to the left of the various input tools to indicate the types. When you see an icon next to an input tool that is a character from that language, that indicates that tool is an IME.

Handwriting input tools are indicated with a pencil icon. The keyboard icon indicates input tools that are virtual keyboards.

NOTE: You can also double-click on an input tool in the “All input tools” list to add it to the “Selected input tools” list.

Click “OK” to accept your changes and close the dialog box.

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Access Gmail Labs Features

Gmail Labs is a way to use experimental tools for Gmail. Some of the Labs features may seem more useful than others. There is a “Send feedback” link for each feature, so you can let Google know what you think of each one after trying it out. Note that these features are not all are necessarily ready for prime-time, so use them with caution.

The following is a link you can use if you have trouble accessing your inbox after trying out some of the Gmail Labs features.

http://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?labs=0

To add Gmail Labs features, log in to your Gmail account in a browser. Click the settings gear button and select “Settings” from the drop-down menu. At the top of the “Settings” screen, click the “Labs” link.

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Select the “Enable” option next to each feature you want to try out and then click “Save Changes” above or below the list of “Available Labs”. For example, we’ve enabled the “Canned Responses” feature.

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When you have any Labs features enabled, they are listed above the “Available Labs” list under “Enabled Labs.”

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Use the Canned Responses Labs Feature to Quickly Insert Common Text

In Lesson 5, we talked about setting up a signature in Gmail. Because you’re only allowed to setup one signature, you can use the “Canned Responses” feature in Labs to set up additional signatures you can quickly and easily insert into your messages. We will set up a signature as a canned response in our example.

Create a Canned Response from a Message in Gmail

Once you’ve enabled “Canned Responses,” you need to setup a template for your canned response to use in your messages and replies. To do this, compose a message in Gmail (see Lesson 2), leaving the “To” and “Subject” fields empty. These are not included in the template.

You can use links, images, and text formatting in your canned response. In our example, we added a link to “How-To Geek” that accesses the website.

Click the down arrow button in the lower, right corner of the “Compose” window and select “Canned responses” and then “New canned response” from the popup menu.

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Enter a name in the “Please enter a new canned response name” edit box on the dialog box that displays and click “OK.”

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You can discard the current email once you’ve created your canned response. To do so, click the “Discard draft” (trash can) button at the bottom of the “Compose” window.

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NOTE: If you decide you don’t want to discard the message, you can get the message back by clicking “Undo discard” on the message that pops up at the top of the screen. That message only displays for a short time, so be sure you watch for it if you change your mind.

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Insert a Canned Response into a New Message, Reply, or Forward

To insert a canned response into a new message, reply, or forward, click “Compose” to start a new message or click Reply or Forward in a message. Click the down arrow button in the lower-right corner of the “Compose” window and select “Canned responses” and then select the desired canned response under “Insert.”

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The text/images from the selected canned response are inserted into your email. Fill in the “To” and “Subject” fields, write your email, and send it.

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Edit a Message Template in Gmail

If you want to change a canned response, you don’t have to recreate it. Simply insert it into a new message as described above. Edit the response and then highlight what you want to include in the canned response. Click the down arrow button in the lower-right corner of the “Compose” window and select “Canned responses” and then select the canned response you want to replace under “Save.”

NOTE: To remove a canned response, select the canned response you want to remove under “Delete.” A dialog box displays to make sure you want to delete the canned response, then click “OK” to do so.

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Try Additional Gmail Labs Features

There are many other Gmail Labs features for you to try out, such as “Quote selected text.” The “Quote selected text” feature allows you to select specific content you want to quote when replying to an email. Once you’ve enabled the “Quote selected text” feature, simply highlight the text to quote in a message and press “r.”

NOTE: clicking “Reply” will not work so you must use the keyboard shortcut.

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Undo Send

The “Undo Send” Gmail Labs feature allows you to stop messages from being sent for a few seconds after clicking the send button. Once you’ve enabled the “Undo Send” feature, specify the number of seconds for the “cancellation period” on the “General” tab in “Settings.”

To “unsend” an email, click “Undo Send” when the message displays or press “z” within the number of seconds you specified in the settings.

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You can also unsend emails if you work in Gmail offline, as discussed at the beginning of this lesson. You can make any changes you want to the message in the “Outbox” before connecting to the internet to send it.

Smartlabels

We talked about labels and filters in Lesson 3 and Lesson 4, respectively. You can expand that capability using the Gmail Labs “Smartlabels” feature. With a little setup, Smartlabels can classify your email automatically, applying labels and removing certain types of email from your inbox.

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Custom keyboard shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts can save you time when creating and managing your email messages. There are some standard shortcuts that we discussed in Lesson 2. However, the “Custom keyboard shortcuts” Gmail Labs feature allows you to customize the keyboard shortcut mappings in the “Settings.”

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Try Gmail Labs at Your Own Risk!!

Remember, Gmail Labs features may change, break, or disappear at any time. Again, use the following link if you find you can’t access your inbox because one of the Labs features broke.

http://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/?labs=0

Conclusion

This concludes the How-To Geek School series on using Gmail like a pro. If you missed any part, you can easily go back and catch up. We hope you learned a lot as we know we did. Please check back next week for a brand new How-To Geek School series!

Lori Kaufman is a freelance technical writer who likes to write geeky how-to articles to help make people's lives easier through the use of technology. She loves watching and reading mysteries and is an avid Doctor Who fan.

  • Published 03/7/14

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