O'Reilly Network: Why GMail Matters (Really!) [May. 04, 2004] "So why is GMail so impressive? First, they've fundamentally rethought email interfaces. I've been using email for about fifteen years, and during that time every mail interface I've used has been based on the same fundamental metaphor: individual messages stored in folders. The virtual desktop has been aping the real desktop since the 1960s, forcing me to store any given message in exactly one place.
GMail changes that. A GMail account has exactly one folder, containing all of your messages. Messages are grouped into "Conversations", containing all the messages in a particular thread. Threading is nothing new, although GMail is the first mass market service I've seen that relies heavily on it. The mailbox itself has three default views - an Inbox, a "Starred" view for finding conversations you've marked as of interest, and an All Mail view. Conversations live in the Inbox until you choose to Archive them, at which point they are available from the All Mail view, and by searching.
The second advance is the web interface itself. I've long been a proponent of web applications that act like "regular" applications. The difference between the two is about immediate responsiveness, which is expected of desktop applications, versus a request-response metaphor that is still tolerated in web application design - although I haven't the foggiest idea why. GMail is an incredibly well designed application. The interface is entirely HTML and DHTML, with only a few, tiny, graphics. Pages load almost instantaneously--the Compose Mail screen for my account is only 1,001 bytes and loads instantaneously. The spell checker interface is the best I've seen in a web application, although it seems to have trouble with contractions. For power users, they've even managed to implement PINE-style hotkeys, allowing complete navigation of the system from the keyboard. All in all, it's a hellishly impressive piece of thin-client interface design, and is going to raise the bar for every competitor."