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Gmail gets a high five

Gmail turned five earlier this week, April Fools Day to be exact.

But the original launch was no joke. Gmail, perhaps the longest running app to still be labeled "BETA" shook up the e-mail landscape immediately on its debut and continues to push the envelope with innovative releases.

It's easy to forget that back in 2004 e-mail services like Yahoo Mail and Hotmail were free, but free storage was limited, you had to pay for storage in, for example, 20 to 100 megabyte increments. Google's idea to provide Gmail users with up to a gigabyte of free storage was audacious at the time and compelling enough to force competitors to match it or risk losing users.

Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) also gained by being late to the e-mail party, learning from the mistakes by others. Rather than open up the service to all comers, Gmail started in true beta fashion as a test application that only a limited number of people could access. In the first year, you had to know someone at Google or a Gmail user to be "invited" to sign up. This not only helped control growth, it limited opportunities for spammers and helped the company fine tune its approach to deal with spam.

Even as its user base has grown into the millions, Gmail has one of the best spam-blocking systems on the planet. I rarely check my spam folder because there's almost never anything in there that's "real" e-mail meant for me.

Ironically, today I noticed one of those exceptions, a "Google Alerts" email from Google itself, ended up in my Spam folder. Wow, of all the things to slip through!

And then there's that revenue thing. [Does Gmail make money? ](/storage/article.php/3748276/Google+Gmail+Success+Spells+SaaS+Superiority.htm)"Gmail is absolutely profitable," a Google spokesperson told me for a story last year. "We're making money," agreed Matthew Glotzbach, product management director for Google Enterprise.

Perhaps more importantly, Gmail was a key part of Google's eventual cloud initiative. A few years after Gmail's debut, Google Docs and Spreadsheets came out, followed quickly by the ever-growing Google Apps Suite that includes the Gmail service.

Gmail has also been a test best for new services. One example, Google turned to Gmail first to offer an offline access feature and it has since expanded that capability to other apps in its cloud offering. More recently, Gmail labs released [an "Undo Send" option ](/software/article.php/3811316/Gmail+Users+Get+an+Undo+Send+Option.htm)that gives users five seconds to recall an e-mail from being sent even after hitting the send button. Clever.

So happy 5th birthday Google, you've come a long way.

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