Google Apps

Gmail's new Compose Experience is coming

Gmail has announced and released a new Compose window that operates much like a chat window. Is this new feature really going to benefit us?

Google is known for constantly improving its services and releasing new features making our lives easier. With Gmail, Google set a new standard for how companies can update their web based products by rolling out changes and improvements on an almost weekly basis. Some are silently released and just appear out of thin air while the larger changes are announced as part of a release track. On October 30th, Google released on the Rapid Release Track a new way to compose and reply to messages that is meant to simplify the process and save time.

Initial reaction

While being a free Gmail user for almost six years and a Google Apps user for three, I've witnessed many Google updates. Recently, I discovered the "new compose experience" as Google puts it. This is the first time I've tried a Google feature that I did not like immediately. Why?

Well, it feels - unnatural. I feel as though I'm driving a car in England, you know on the wrong side of the road, and all the signs are in different places. Sure, I can stay in between the lines and not kill anyone, but it just doesn't feel right. So it feels with the new compose experience.

Google's big selling point with this new feature is that one can have the compose window open and still read email, reply to email, and search email. Ok, great. Will this new feature really be worth it? How will people in your organization react to it? Will they easily get accustomed to how compact the window is?

Even while writing this, I see certain people in my company with their glasses on, heads tilted back, and mouth slightly agape straining to see the compose pane and freaking out that the formatting options have disappeared. Granted these are the same people that think the CD-ROM tray is a cup holder. They do not deal well with change. Let's take a look at it so you can decide for yourself.

The new Compose feature

In order to try out this new feature, your Google Apps domain must either be on the Rapid Release track or you can use a free Gmail account. Click on the 'Compose' button and then the link next to the 'Labels' button (Figure A).

Figure A

The browser window will reload and the following appears (Figure B).

Figure B

This gives a brief overview of where the compose tools are placed. Click 'Got It' and let's examine it further.

Immediately, you will notice the window is very compact; it is like an oversized chat window that can pop-out, pop-in, and minimize. Gone are the toolbars and the ability to assign a label to the draft (which is a shame because I really liked that feature!). However, the new compose window does retain a lot of the capabilities the old one had.

There is an interesting change in the To:, Cc:, and Bcc: fields. These fields now have keyboard shortcuts (Ctrl-Shift-T, Ctrl-Shift-C, Ctrl-Shift-B) and when typing a recipient's name or email address, you are able to see their profile information and options for contacting that person (Figure C). Also, once you've select a contact, you can drag and drop the contact between the three fields.

Figure C

Down at the bottom of the compose window is where the formatting options sit. You'll notice the underlined 'A', which, when clicked upon, the formatting toolbar expands. Next to that are tools for attaching files, inserting images, and inserting links. Features such as emoticons and inserting invitations have yet to be built into this new window, but are coming soon. At the bottom right are additional tools for the message - discarding the draft, using plain text, printing the draft, selecting a canned response, and spell check.

After getting familiar with the interface, you can begin typing out a message. Google has designed the compose window to autosave much like document in Google Drive. Whenever there is more than a two second pause in typing a draft, autosave kicks in to save the draft. Prior, autosave would happen only every few minutes or the draft had to be saved manually. As the message is typed and becomes lengthy, the window grows to accommodate the text and eventually a scrollbar appears on the right side (Figure D).

Figure D

So the big selling point to all of this is the ability to start drafting a message and take a break from it while keeping the compose window open. I have to say, that is a good feature. Many, many times have I been writing an email and I need to refer back to something in another email. You know how that goes: save your draft, search for that email with data you need, copy the data, go to the Drafts label, open the draft, paste in the data. Now, with the new compose window, you save a few steps. If you decide to finish a draft later, you can keep it open and still read email or even compose another message in a second, third, or more, window. It can be minimized to get out of the way but still be there to remind you to finish it.

Conclusion

I began writing this about two days ago. Since then I've been using the new compose window and I will admit, it has grown on me. I have gotten accustomed to its size though it still does not feel totally normal. It will take a little more time before I'm fully comfortable with it.

The big question: How will your users react and adapt to it?

November 20th Google releases this to all Google Apps users and eventually it will become a permanent change in the way messages are composed. Google provides a guide and an email template to introduce this feature to users.

What are your plans for telling the people in your company? Will you just let it happen and let them figure it out for themselves? Or, will you notify them ahead of time? How many folks in your company do you think will struggle with this change? What will you do to help them with it?

Also read:

About

Tim Lange is an IT professional who, among other things, manages Google Apps for his company.

8 comments
colingbradley
colingbradley

I particularly like the ability to start separate conversation which allows the edit of the Subject (removing the many Fwd: Fwd: ...). Most people who fwd emails to a group will appreciate the new way of displaying the recipients in the group as you can remove the sender much easier than of old. I like it and will never go back.

technical.angel
technical.angel

Oddly enough, right before I read this article, I went to email my fiance a link to another article. I got the notification for the new compose feature and tried it. I use IE9 on a terminal server. I'm not quite sure what was causing problems, but I could barely use it. Not everything was showing, and it was just weird. While typing this comment, I went and checked it again. I LOVE IT. In fact, when I went to send my finace the link, I had to open Gmail in another window so I didn't have to close the email I had open. This works much better. I like attached pictures showing in the email too!

Szasz
Szasz

the new compose window is really convenient from my point of view. I can write e-mails while copy+ paste. I don't have to switch between different windows. The new pop-up function is really practical. good work done, Google.

robb
robb

We have come to rely upon the ability to label emails so we know who has taken "ownership" of a particular email. We have several people in our office who deal with attorneys and their secretaries who email assignments to us and use email to request status on work they have submitted to us. To lose the labeling option would make it a nightmare to keep track of email assignments. Why not give us an option, instead of the change being "forced" upon us?

shpond
shpond

I for one like the new compose window. Up until now, whenever I'd compose an email, I'd pop it out into a new window if I needed to copy something out of a different email, or simply wanted to refer back to an email not in the current thread. It's a much nicer alternative to the pop-out.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Are you ready for the new Google Compose experience? Are the users in your organization ready?

technical.angel
technical.angel

You can label a draft. Click on the down arrow in the bottom right corner, and right under switch back is Label.

Tim Lange
Tim Lange

technical.angel, you looked at just the right time. Looks like Google added that feature after I wrote the blog. This is great news!