07 April 2013

Why Gmail Redesigned the Compose Interface

Many people complained about the new UI for composing messages in Gmail, others found it useful, but it's interesting to know what's the main goal of the new interface. I initially thought that Google wanted make it easier to use other Gmail features while you're composing a message, but an article from Co.Design suggests something else.

What it looks like, really, is a slightly oversized version of Gchat. And that's no accident. Google's actively trying to make email less fussy and formal--or, in other words, to make it a little more like instant messaging. And as Jason Cornwell, Gmail's lead designer, explains, one of the ways to do that is simply to 'give you permission to write shorter messages.' (...) Picture the standard full-screen compose window. The one that gives you a dauntingly huge text box to fill and an array of options for formatting whatever you manage to put in it. What that really looks like, with its button-strewn toolbar, is an empty word processor--and according to Cornwell, what it communicates to users is this: 'Write something long. It was a space that was sort of intimidating, I think, to write a message like "Hey, wanna get lunch?"' he explains. 'We wanted the new compose to facilitate these quicker messages. Or at least make it a space where that felt appropriate.

Gmail's lead designer says that "a very small percentage of emails involve a formatting action," so that's the reason why you need two clicks instead of only one click to make text bold. Once you click the "formatting options" button, the bar stays open, so you can use other features without an additional click.

Co.Design argues that Gmail now competes with SMS, instant messaging and social networks, so Google had to simplify the interface "to keep up with the times".

The old interface:

The new interface:

4 Cool Features That Make Opera A Browser Worth Checking Out

why opera is the bestIt was only months ago that I finally made the transition from Firefox to Chrome, but it’s a decision I’m pleased with making. While I do feel like Google Chrome is the best browser out there for the average internet user, Opera will always be my favorite “dark horse” in the category.

Though it’s probably known best for it’s presence in the mobile space, Opera’s desktop browser has always had a good feel to it. It’s very fast, responsive, renders well, and is packed with so many features that other browsers carelessly overlook and don’t seem to consider. Let’s appreciate Opera in this post and check out a few of those features.

Speed Dial

While Opera is certainly not the only browser out that supports this feature anymore, it was easily one of the first.

why opera is the best

Opera’s Speed Dial page is very configurable, allowing you to change the number of columns on the page, the zoom level, and you can even set a custom background image to the page to give it more of a unique feel.

why use the opera browser

As you can see in the screenshot above, I’ve played with those settings a bit. Speed Dial is, in my opinion, the most sensible homepage available (in any browser). Opera has had years and years of experience with it, and they do it right.

Tab Arrangements & Placements

This may be one of the most underrated features available in any browser. As an unfortunate single-monitor user, I don’t get that great benefit of being able to do two things at once (in two different windows) very often. With Opera, I can.

why use the opera browser

Right-clicking the title bar and hovering over the Arrange menu will expand several different ways that you can arrange your open tabs. The cleanest and most convenient way is to tile them vertically (as resolutions are wider than they are tall).

why use the opera browser

You can surely imagine how this can be useful. Maybe you’re interested in watching a long video on YouTube while doing work in another window. Tile the windows, play the video, and do your work in the opposite window. This is so much more efficient than bringing up two copies of a single browser.

why opera browser

Opera also offers the ability to change the placement of your tab bar entirely. Top, bottom, left, or right are all fair game, and docking tabs to the left or right side will display your tabs in a more interesting thumbnail view.

Stacking Tabs

For the longest time, I had searched through add-ons and extensions for Firefox and Chrome to find something like this, but I failed. Does it exist? Possibly. But, it comes with Opera right out of the box. Stacking tabs is a way to basically assign a parent tab to additional tabs.

why opera browser

Above, you can see the MakeUseOf tabs are stacked. The main tab is the leftmost, while those after it can be stacked and then unstacked again.

why opera browser

How is this useful? It’s a great space-saver and synergizes very well with websites that may require you to have several different tabs open (such as Reddit). Assigning these tabs to a single stack will allow you to navigate and enjoy the website as normal without sacrificing a whole heap of real estate in the tab bar. Being able to stack tabs is something that I’d call a “quality of life” feature, and it’s something that has saved me headaches in the past.

Opera Turbo

Again, the only way to really describe a feature like this is to call it underrated. Opera Turbo is a very niche feature that is going to help such a small minority of users, but to those of who make some use it could see it as the deciding factor between Opera and another browser.

why opera is the best

To dumb the process down a bit, Opera Turbo simply lowers the quality of images on every website. If you don’t think this change is noticeable, try using a shoddy satellite or DSL connection. I’ve had to do it before, and it is. Right-clicking on an image will allow you to reload it in full quality if you desire. You can set Opera Turbo as on, off, or to detect when it needs to be used.

I wouldn’t call any of these features groundbreaking or exceptional. While some stand out more than others, they are quite simple. Nonetheless, it’s good to see Opera thinking outside of the box to provide users with features you won’t find somewhere else. What’s your favorite Opera feature? Let me know in the comments!

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