A [Gmail] Aside

If you’re not already using the best web browser client in the world, perhaps now is a time to start. Why? Because Gmail’s just gone and released not one, but two great features in the last couple days. I know that a blog about politics, religion, and other cultural issues isn’t exactly the normal place to rave about mainstream technology, but the new stuff in Gmail has me terribly excited.

Themes:

One thing that gmail has always been lacking is visual flare. It wasn’t significant enough to make up for the fact that Gmail has much better functionality than all of its competitors, so I didn’t complain. But today as I entered my e-mail inbox, I was surprised to find a new look awaiting me… and a notice telling me to check out the “Themes settings” tab.

Well I did. And I had a ton of fun trying out most of the 30 themes they released. Yeah, that’s right. 30. Hotmail’s had themes for a little while now, but their handful of themes don’t come anywhere near the pizazz that Gmail has now! For screenshots of some of the most fun ones, as well as the full report, go on over to the Gmail blog.

As the Gmail team notes, some of the themes aren’t very practical. I found there was an abundance of “dark” themes — meaning white writing on black backgrounds, which I don’t like inside of an already colourful browser! Still, in a mailbox that was previously devoid of any cool coloration, the answer has been received!

Voice and Video Chat:

Although I admit I have had way more fun with the themes than this innovation, the ability to have voice and video chats from within your browser is easily the more impressive accomplishment by the Gmail team. You can correct me in the comments if I’m wrong, but as far as I know this is the first of its kind, which is increasingly rare for Google. After dominating the Search Engine business, Google has focused on either improving bought-out products or releasing versions of already-present technology. Picasa and Youtube, for example, were other people’s innovations, while Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs are all old hat, although they add some nice twists to the different technologies. But video chat from within a web browser? Within your e-mail? As far as I know, no such thing is out there that quite compares. Yeah, Skype and MSN can both allow video chats through a computer-based program, but Gmail Video Chat allows for everything to happen seamlessly within your already-open inbox!

Check out the Gmail Blog for more on how to use the function!

The best part? The optimism this brings. Most of Google’s projects have seemed frozen for some time now. Gmail has been the best from its introduction. Google Talk has been the worst. Most of the other products fall into the middle-ground, managing to attract hard-core Google fans but not many others. But by releasing this round of changes, Google has given a sign that they may be preparing to update many of their products.

It’s about time!

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