Revamped Gmail Coming

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. -– Google showed off new features in its popular Gmail e-mail program at a briefing for analysts at the company’s “Googleplex” headquarters.

Some of the features will be coming “soon” while others are rolling out today, such as free support for the Internet Message Access Protocol, (IMAP) .

Since its release in 2004, Gmail has included support for POP  access, which helps users retrieve e-mail from a mail server in order to pull down messages from mobile devices such as BlackBerrys and notebook computers.

But with POP, messages you read off the network stream in as new or unread when you re-log in to the network; with IMAP, it’s easier to see which messages are truly new.

The problem with POP is that you have to read e-mail twice,” said Gmail product manager Keith Coleman. “Our philosophy is to never hold users’ data hostage. For e-mail you should be able to get it anywhere in the world.” He noted Gmail users could even forward to another e-mail service if they want to.

Google software engineer Germano Caronni, who helped develop IMAP for Gmail, noted the release in a blog posting today. He said IMAP will let Gmail users keep e-mail in sync automatically as you read and sort it. “Your smartphone most likely supports it, as does your PDA, laptop, desktop, etc.,” he wrote.

Coleman gave a brief demo of other features coming soon to Gmail that make heavy use of AJAX . While Gmail will look the same to users, Coleman said “under the hood it’s completely different.” The new version will prefetch all messages on the page, so when users click on a message, it loads instantly. And they can also easily click through to other new messages from the first message rather than click back to the inbox and start over.

“This really shines on MacBook Pros with the Safari browser and all the new platforms,” said Coleman. “Larry’s always telling us slow products never win,” said Coleman referring Google co-founder Larry Page.

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