Friday, October 26, 2007

Using GMAIL offline and sorting mail by size

You read it right! You can now be sitting on a flight with no internet connectivity, yet use almost all features of Gmail. You can read new mails, reply to them, sort through old mail, delete unneeded mails, compose new ones, or just sort by size to delete those huge mails with attachments. All this will happen offline on your PC/laptop, and will sync to Gmail server as soon as you next connect to the internet.

No, you do not need to install a third party JavaScript API like Google Gears, but just leverage the latest feature provided for free by Gmail - IMAP.

IMAP, short for Internet Message Access Protocol allows any compliant desktop software to access your Gmail mails for you. This means that you can now use powerful Windows software such Microsoft Outlook, iPhone, Thunderbird or your Blackberry to access your Gmail account in it's full glory. IMAP by definition quickly fetches all the email headers, such as the mail subject, from, date, size etc. from the mail server. This means that once synced, you can go off line and manage your mail at your own leisure. You can mark the full mail body to be downloaded, mark others for deletion, compose new mails, using powerful spell checkers etc. and reply to other mails. All this even on a flight with now Internet. As soon as your laptop gets internet access, you IMAP client like MS Outlook will connect to Gmail server and automatically sync all your changes.

A powerful benefit of using this method is that the actual mails always reside on the Gmail servers. So, you can still access your Gmail account from the browser from anywhere, as you were doing earlier. Now, all that is changed is that if you wish, you can use more powerful and offline applications to manage your web based gmail messages.

One of my all time favorite gripe with Gmail was it's lack of mail size display. This prevent me from sorting my mail for the ones with huge attachments unnecessarily filling up real estate space. I know we are already at 4 GB of space...but still! Lesser messages on server mean lesser clutter and more productivity. This is now taken care of using IMAP. I found tonnes of old forwards with huge attachment which I could delete right away!

You can read on how to configure Gmail in Microsoft Outlook2007 on their corresponding Help Center page.

Outlook will show your gmail labels as folder auto-magically, but for that I had to do the following:
  • Right click on the newly created mail group for your Gmail account in Outlook and click on 'IMAP Folders'
  • Under the 'All' tab, click 'Query'
  • Click OK.
Doing so does a one time required sync of all your custom labels, and some Gmail specific special folders. Here is a screen shot of the same:

Additionally, all your star marked mails, show up as flagged mails in Outlook. Any new mail you flag in Outlook, will automatically show as starred back in Gmail. Neat, isn't it? :)

The 'Getting Started' page by Google will help you, well, get started :)

Do comment how IMAP is changing your Gmail life.