Still Not Sold on Gmail's New Look

And before saying anything else, let me acknowledge:

- This is a tiny problem as the world goes.

- It's largely (though not entirely) a matter of taste and habituation. The "not entirely" part is that the new look, while "cuter," seems simply less functional than the old and ultimately more gimmicky. In that it is a step away from the clean utilitarianism that had been Google's trademark and glory.


- I am not the first one to register a harrumph. See Alexis Madrigal on our site; a not-very-convincing rebuttal also on our site; a nice recent screed about the new Gmail by Henry Farrell; and some how-to's for coping with new Gmail from Rebecca Greenfield at The Wire.

- And, further in the "to be fair" mode, let me thank the Gmail engineers for some useful recent improvements to the Offline Gmail app for Chrome, including the ability to download as much as a month's worth of old mail. And, yes, I do realize that the UI of Offline Gmail is based on the new look.

So why bring up a New Coke New Gmail complaint now? Gmail, after all, for now still allows me to stick with the "classic" look, despite increasingly insistent notices that the change is coming soon. I mention it as an excuse to share several links:

- A very, very mildly techie how-to on making the old look permanent.

- Some elaborate apologias from the Gmail team on why they bothered to do this at all. The master site is the Official Gmail Blog, with specific entries on: user testing; what the designers were trying to do; an overview of the new look; how the new "features" are deployed on top of preexisting code, and how they were first tested inside Google on the company's own staffers, in accord with the "we eat our own dogfood" principle. Googlers, you let us down! You could have refused to swallow this idea while it was still in dogfood phase.

- A Mac-only email handler that is new to me, Sparrow, which joins Thunderbird, Eudora, and a zillion others (Outlook, Apple Mail, Opera Mail, The Bat, etc - here is the Sparrow review) as a way to handle Gmail on your own terms without noticing its built-in look at all. As a side benefit, many of these systems can create local hard disk copies of your cloud-based email archives, which is another bulwark against the lost-mail disaster I described a few months ago.

Some day I would love to know how the "New Gmail!" movement was and is viewed inside Google and whether the people who have visited it upon us are considered visionaries or meddlers.

Now, about those new "Google+" results at the top of the search page.... (And, yes, I know they can be turned off.)

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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