October 4, 2018

How to Improve the New Gmail Look

The 2018 Gmail* update added a number of new features as well as some changes to the overall look-and-feel of the user-interface.  As with any change, some people like it and some people don't.

The purpose of this article is to talk about some of those UI changes that can be fixed, or at least improved through changes in settings.  These changes won't fix the problems for everyone, but for some people it will be an improvement.  They are worth exploring if you can relate to any of the problem listed below.

It's interesting to note that the current "Classic" look of Gmail that was retired was the "New" look that so many hated back in 2012 after the last big change to the UI (http://gmail-tips.blogspot.com/2012/01/typical-problem-with-gmails-new-look.html).

So let's get to it.

  • The message list has too much white-space.
  • The attachment icons are too big and waste too much space.
  • I want the paperclip icon for attachments.
  • I can't see as many messages in my Inbox now.
  • It looks like it was made for kids.
  • Click the gear icon <gear icon> (upper/right), select "Display density" and change it to "Compact".

  • The pop-up icons (archive, delete, mark-as-read/unread, snooze) on the right side cover the message date.
  • The pop-up icons make it too each to accidentally delete a message.
  • The pop-up icons are too busy and distracting.
  • Disable: Settings -> General -> Hoover actions.

  • I don't want suggestions while I am composing a message.
  • I don't want the short suggested message replies.
  • Disable: Settings -> General -> Smart Compose
  • Disable: Settings -> General -> Smart Reply

  • I can't find my labels.
  • The label list in the left column is missing.
  • I want the label list visible all the time, not just when I hoover over it.
  • Click the three-line "hamburger" icon  (upper/left) to toggle the left column between always-open and hoover-to-open.

  • I don't see all my labels in the left column.
  • I don't see the "More" option to expand the label list.
  • Click the icons  at the bottom of the left column to hide the optional panels allowing more space for the label list.

  • I don't use apps so I don't want the right column list of apps.
  • The right column wastes space.
  • Click the arrow icon  (lower/right) to hide the right column.

  • My Inbox configuration is wrong (some people have reported that switching to the new look also changed the configuration of their Inbox).
  • Go to Settings -> Inbox and select the Inbox configuration you want:
    • Classic - set the Inbox Type to Default, and un-check all the Categories except Primary.
    • <x> First - set the Inbox Type to the one you want displayed first:  Important, Unread, or Starred.
    • Priority - set the Inbox Type to priority, and set the Inbox Sections the way you want.
    • Categories - set the Inbox Type to Default, and configure the Category tabs you want:  Social, Promotions, Updates, and Forums.

  • The font is too small.
  • The font is too large.
  • The font is hard to read.
  • This problem is highly subjective to the user.  But for some, setting the page zoom a bit larger/smaller helps. The displayed text (font) size for a web-site or page is a function of your browser. On a Mac use Cmd instead of Ctrl.
    • Zoom in - <Ctrl> <plus>
    • Zoom out - <Ctrl> <minus>
    • Reset zoom - <Ctrl> <zero>
    • Adjust zoom - <Ctrl> <Mouse Wheel>

  • Gmail is hard to read
  • The page is too cluttered
  • There's not enough contrast on the page.
  • Go to Settings->Themes and select "High contrast"
  • Go to Settings->Themes and try the solid color (no image) themes.

  • Gmail is too complex.
  • Gmail is too busy.
  • Gmail is too slow.
  • Gmail is ugly.
  • I want a basic web-mail client that is simple to use.
  • This is also very subjective, but for some people using the Basic HTML version of Gmail is an improvement.
    • Bookmark or sign in at:  https://mail.google.com/?ui=html
    • If you are asked "Do you really want to use HTML Gmail?" select "I'd like to use HTML Gmail".
    • If you see an option to make the HTML version the default, you can select that (although it may not stick).
    • Anytime you are viewing the standard version, you can use the above URL to switch to the Basic HTML version.

* Gmail is a trademark of Google, Inc. This page is not sponsored by or affiliated with Google.

(c) 2018 Brett K. Carver

June 20, 2015

Gmail Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

The topics below represent many of the most commonly posted questions to the Gmail Help Forum. If your question is not covered below then you should try the following steps:

Index of questions (by forum category)

Account Access and Safety
Composing and Sending Messages
Reading and Receiving Messages
Managing Settings and Mail
Contacts and Sync

Questions and Answers

How do I get help and support?

The best source of help is the Google Help Center for your e-mail product:  Gmail, Inbox, or Google Apps. This provides online articles and troubleshooters that cover most everything you might need to know about Gmail.

Next would be to enter your question in the search bar of the Google Help Forum for your e-mail product:  Gmail, Inbox, or Google Apps.  These are Google managed user-to-user forums.  Since most questions about Gmail have been asked before, the greatest value is using search to find a question like yours that has already been answered.

Blogs written by expert users is another source of detailed information about the product. A partial list of such blogs in included in the forum post: Gmail Support Options

Google does not make use of any third-party companies for support. Still, a web-search on "Gmail support" will generate a list of third-party support sites. None of these sites are officially endorsed by Google, even if they claim otherwise.

Help Centers
Help Forums
Gmail Forum: Gmail Support Options

My account was hacked, how do I get it back?
My password no longer works, how do I get a new one?

If you are unable to log into your account, you will need to go to https://accounts.google.com/signin/recovery (also accessible from the "Need help?" link on the sign in page).  There you will have one or more of the following options:
  1. Using a pre-configured recovery phone.
  2. Using a pre-configured recovery email.
  3. Prove ownership by answering questions about the Google account (last password, creation date), receiving a verification code to an e-mail or phone, or providing other information.
The message beginning “Google couldn’t verify it’s you…” means you have not been able to prove ownership of the account. Repeating the process will not help unless you can provide more accurate information or attempt it on a computer/device normally used to access the account.

There are no other options for account recovery, and Google will not return an account unless you can prove ownership of it. If all three of the above fail then the account is probably lost

Help Center:  Account recovery options
Expert Blog:  Gmail Account Recovery and Security
Gmail Forum:  I can not access my Gmail account

Why am I receiving e-mail to an address similar to my own?

Gmail ignores both dots "." and caps in both account creation and e-mail delivery.  That means first.last@, firstlast@, and First.Last@ all represent the same account.  If you receive e-mail intended for someone else then either the sender accidentally used the wrong e-mail address, or they were given the wrong e-mail address.

Help Center:  Receiving someone else's mail
Expert Blog:  Wrong email! The GMail "dots issue"

Why am I receiving e-mail addressed to an address different than mine?

If you receive e-mail intended for someone else using an address with different characters or numbers in the address, it could be because your address is in the BCC field (very common for spam) or because the receiver made an error in auto-forwarding sending them to the wrong account.

Gmail Forum:  E-mail with no similarity
Gmail Forum:  I'm getting someone else's emails

My account may have been accessed by someone else, how to I secure it?

In order to fully secure your account you must check both your Gmail account settings (Gmail Security Checklist) and your Google account settings (Account Security Checkup).

Help Center:  Gmail Security Checklist
Help Center:  Account Security Checkup
Expert Blog:  How To Secure Your Account

How do I change my Gmail account password?

To change your Gmail password, use a browser to log into the Gmail web interface at https://mail.google.com/ then go to:  Settings -> Accounts -> Change Account Settings -> Change Password.

Help Center:  Change or reset your Google Account password
Gmail Forum:  I want to change my Gmail password

How do I make a password no-one can hack?

Pick a strong password including letters, numbers and other allowed symbols, and keep it just for Gmail - don’t use it on other sites. 
Help Center:  Creating a strong password
Expert blog:  How NOT To Get Hacked

How do I sign into a different Gmail account?

To switch the account you are viewing, start by signing out of whatever account you are in,  then go to https://mail.google.com/ and sign into the account you want to access.

To signing into another account you own in addition to the current one, click on your picture/avatar in the upper/right and select “Add account” from the drop-down panel.

Help Center:  Sign out
Help Center:  Sign in to multiple accounts at once
Gmail Forum:  Signing in as different user

How do I recover deleted messages?

The answer to this is dependent on when (less or more than 30 days) and why (by you or due to a compromised account) the messages were deleted.

Help Center:  Recovering deleted messages
Help Center:  Delete messages
Gmail Forum:  Recover deleted emails in Gmail after 30 days

Google says I have violated the Terms of Service (ToS). What do I do?

If you are notified that your account has been disabled and you feel it is a mistake, a link will be provided under “Next steps for disabled accounts” where you may submit an appeal.

Help Center:  Account has been disabled
Help Center:  Google Terms of Service
Help Center:  Gmail Program Policies

I can’t set up a Send Mail As address in Gmail for my Google Apps account.

To set up a Google Apps for Work address for Send Mail As, you must use the Gmail outgoing mail server. So your settings need to read:
    SMTP Server: smtp.gmail.com (over-write any suggestion Gmail may have entered)
    Port number: 465 using SSL or 587 using TLS
    Username: the full Google Apps address you are trying to set up, including the domain
    Password: the Google Apps password for the account you are trying to set up.
Help Center: Send mail from a different address or alias

I can’t set up a Send Mail As address in Gmail for my non-Google email account.

For all non-Google email accounts you must ask your other provider for the SMTP Server name, port number and security setting they require you to use, and enter that information in the set-up boxes.
If your “other account” is only a forwarding address and has no entitlement to use an SMTP server, then you cannot set it up as a Send Mail As address in Gmail.

Help Center: Send mail from a different address or alias

How do I make sure that all contacts on my phone get synced to my Google account and can be recovered if I lose them from the phone?

To sync to your Google account when Sync Contacts is turned on, all contacts created on your phone must be tagged with the Google contact type. Some phones provide this as the default - others, notably Samsung, require you to select the Google contact type every time. If you do not do that, then the contact will only be saved on your phone, will not sync to your Google account, and will be lost if you reset your phone or change phones.

Help Center: Sync contacts with your phone
Help Center: Sync contacts with your Apple device
Help Center: Sync Gmail, Calendar and Contacts on your iPhone and iPad

Why can’t I get or send my Gmail messages with my Outlook/Thunderbird/Apple Mail/Windows Mail clients? I get an error message.

Gmail recently enforced a higher security sign in procedure no longer using OAuth as the default access method. While developers have received warning from Google, not all e-mail clients and apps have been updated to use the new protocol.

To allow your email client apps to continue to sign in to Gmail the old way, you need to turn on access for these “Less secure Apps” in your Gmail security settings.

Help article: Allowing less secure apps to access your account
Gmail Forum: Has your email app stopped working properly with Gmail?




Index Question.

October 21, 2014

Inbox by Gmail

Transitioning from Standard Gmail to Inbox by Gmail

The purpose of this article is to help Gmail users create a mental-map for the transition from Gmail to Inbox by Gmail as well as understand how some common Gmail actions translate to actions in Inbox by Gmail.

The first thing to understand about the new Inbox by Gmail (or just Inbox) is that it is not just a new user-interface slapped on top of the old Gmail.  It is a completely different way to manage one's e-mail account.  It is not intended to be equivalent to Gmail.  It is simpler, with less configurable options, and provides a more consistent look-and-feel across all supported browsers and mobile devices. But it also maintains the core functionality needed by an e-mail client.

People will tend to either love it, or hate it. And that's OK because Inbox by Gmail is not a replacement for Gmail. You are free to use it, or not.

There are of course some similarities to Gmail.  But even where there is overlap, Google will sometimes use a different name in Inbox to help break any preconceived ideas based on one's experience with Gmail.  So while Gmail's category tabs may be similar to Inbox's bundled-labels (labeled messages grouped together and displayed in the inbox), there are differences in how they work and how you use them.

If you approach Inbox by Gmail as a different type of Gmail, you will probably be confused and frustrated.  Similar things seem to have different names, and some of what you are accustomed to in Gmail is missing or works differently.  On the other hand, if you approach it as a totally new e-mail client (pretend it's made by a different company) learning it from the ground up, it will make more sense and probably be very usable. And there are features available in Inbox by Gmail that are not in Gmail. Many will even prefer it to standard Gmail.

But in the end, each individual will have to decide if they prefer the new use-model supported by Inbox or the more traditional e-mail client model supported by standard Gmail.

This article does not teach one how to use Inbox.  It just discusses some of the differences between Gmail and Inbox by Gmail.  To learn how to use Inbox by Gmail the following article is a must-read:   http://gmail-miscellany.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/inbox-by-gmail-101.html

And yes, the author is well aware of how confusing it is to have "Gmail inbox" (the location), "Inbox by Gmail" (the product), "Inbox by Gmail inbox" (the location), "the inbox" (the location) or just "Inbox" (the product). This is why the product names will italicized (Gmail and Inbox) to help differentiate them from the location (inbox).

Initially Inbox by Gmail is by invitation only. The fastest way to get an invite is for someone who already has Inbox to invite you (each person will get 3 invites). Users can also email inbox@google.com to request an invite. Initially it will require: Android phone (4.1 and up), iPhone (iOS 7 and up), or the Google Chrome browser (v38 and up) on a computer.  If your account has it enabled, you can access Inbox or log into your account using it at: https://inbox.google.com

Overview of Inbox by Gmail

As stated above, this article is not intended to teach one how to use Inbox By Gmail. But a quick overview of the components of Inbox will be helpful in understanding the discussion that follows. The image below is of a representative inbox with a variety of messages and all the component parts labeled. The key to the labels follows the image.

Hint: right-click on the image and "Open link in new window". You can then position the image and the annotation key side-by-side for easier reference.

  1. Open/Close the the main menu which includes a scrolling list of: Labels, Create new (label), Settings, and Help & Feedback.
  2. The currently displayed label.
  3. The messages search bar.
  4. Toggle to display only the messages pinned to the inbox.
  5. Toggle to display/hide recent hangout and chat history. The panel can also be pinned in the right column.
  6. Google product selection panel.
  7. Google+ notifications.
  8. Google account control panel.
  9. Primary labels. Snooze contains all the pending snoozed messages and reminders.
  10. System labels.
  11. User defined bundled labels.
  12. System defined bundled labels.
  13. Unbundled user labels.
  14. Time subsections.
  15. System bundled label with unread messages. System bundled labels each have a unique Icon. Senders with unread messages are bold. The "1 new" indicator shows that there are new messages since the last time the bundle was expanded (some of the unread messages could be old).
  16. A displayed reminder. The "Snoozed..." indicates it is a newly displayed reminder and will go away if the reminder is viewed.
  17. Individual conversation with some unread messages. Senders with unread messages are bold.
  18. Trip notification. Part of the Travel system bundled label which is turned off (you'll notice it's not listed in section "L") so the message shows as unbundled in the inbox. Senders with no picture/avatar use the first letter of their name.
  19. Individual conversation that contains images/attachments. It is part of the Forum system bundle, but it is pinned to the inbox so it appears unbundled.
  20. Purchase notification. Part of the Purchases system bundle, but pinned to the inbox so it shows as unbundled in the inbox.
  21. Bulk sweep icon which will mark all un-pinned conversations as Done. Sweeping can be performed on a bundled label, or on a time subsection in the inbox.
  22. Some frequently used contacts. Hover the mouse over the picture/avatar to see their name pop-up.
  23. Create a new Reminder.
  24. Compose a new message.

Functional Mappings

This table compares some common items, actions and functions between Gmail and Inbox by Gmail. It is not exhaustive, but it should help a Gmail user understand how actions they are familiar with in Gmail map to Inbox. This is especially important because there are a number of things in Gmail that just don't have an equivalent in Inbox. Understanding the differences will save one some frustration looking for something in Inbox that doesn't exist.

Function Gmail Inbox by GMail Comments
Auto-Organization Social, Promotions, Updates, Forums (1) Travel, Purchases, Finances,
Social, Updates, Forums, Promos, Low Priority (2)
As conversations are a collection of related messages, system categories are a collection of related conversations.
User-Defined Organization n/a Bundles (label+filter) (3) Gmail does not have user-defined categories although the Priority Inbox allows for the display of a label which could be assigned with a filter (like a user-defined bundle).
Organization Display Tabs in the inbox Labels bundled in the inbox Bundled labels can be system categories or user-defined.
Saving Messages Archive Done Both result in the message being removed from the inbox.
Marking Messages Unread, Stars, Important Pin Marking messages that need further attention.
Delaying Messages n/a Snooze Snooze hides a message until a specified date/time when it appears at the top of the inbox.
Inbox Format Classic, Important / Unread / Stared-First, Priority, Tabbed Unified (plus bundled labels) The Inbox by Gmail inbox is functionally similar to the Gmail classic inbox, with optional bundled labels, although it looks very different.
Spam Messages Report Spam Move to Spam There is no one-click report spam in Inbox.
Deleting Messages Delete Move to Trash There is no one-click delete in Inbox.
Labels To tag and collect messages To collect messages Labels are not displayed on messages in Inbox so they don't work as visual tags.
Add Label Label menu n/a Inbox does not have a label command to assign multiple labels to a message. (4)
Move to Label Move-To menu Move-To menu Removes current label (including inbox), adds new label, does not modify other labels. Inbox also marks the message as Done.
Filter Creation Settings->Filters, "filter messages like this" (from a message) from a message, from a label In Inbox filters are used to create bundles (label+filter). (5)
Filter Actions Archive, Mark as Read, Star, Label, Forward, Delete, Not Spam, Always/Never Mark Important, Categorize Bundle, Mark as Done Most Gmail actions (like add a star) don't apply in Inbox (which doesn't have stars). In Inbox this creates a user-defined bundle (label+filter) although displaying it in the inbox is optional.
Versions Standard, Basic html, mobile/browser, mobile/app Inbox Inbox has only one version for all platforms.
Formatting Font, Size, Bold / Italic / Underline, Foreground / Background-Color, Justification, Lists, Indent, Quoted Text, links Bold/Italic/Underline, Lists, Links Inbox simple replies (not poped-out) have limited formatting using keyboard short-cuts.
Attachments Local file upload, Drive, Image, Link, Emoticon Local file upload, Link Both support drag-and-drop: single image inline, multiple images or other file types attached.


(1) Settings->Labs->SmartLabels adds: Travel, Purchases and Finance.

(2) Low Priority in Inbox roughly corresponds to "not important" in Gmail.

(3) Any label can be bundled (that is displayed) in the inbox by adding a no-op or null filter (one that does nothing). If the label is named Pending (for example), enter "label:Pending" in the "has the words" field to create the filter. In Gmail, under Settings->Filters, the filter would look like
Matches: label:Pending
Do this: Apply label "Pending"
It is trying to add the label "Pending" to messages that have the label "Pending" on them, so effectively doing nothing. But a label with a filter applying that label is an Inbox bundled label, and can be displayed in the inbox.

(4) It is possible to assign multiple labels to a message with the following trick:
  1. If the messages is in the inbox, use Move To label (assigns the label and marks the message as Done). If it's in any other label, mark it as Done.
  2. Find the message in Done, and use Move To label (assigned the new label without removing any existing labels, and marks the message as Done).
  3. Repeat #2 as desired.

(5) In Inbox Filters can be created for a label or for a sender. You can also create as well as view/edit all filters in Gmail under Settings->Filters.

While viewing most labels there will be a gear icon in the top row (to the right of the search field) that will open the label's settings. There you can add new filters or click existing filters to edit them.

While viewing a message, if you use the Move To command to move it to a label, will will be given the option to "Always Do This". If you click that link it will create a filter that will always apply that label to messages from that sender.

Bundled Labels

So just what is a label bundled into the inbox in Inbox by Gmail? One way to think about it is to take a subset of the conversations in a label (those not pinned or marked as done) and bundling them together under a single entry in the inbox. Expanding the bundled label lets you see all the conversations it contains. Expanding a conversation lets you see all the messages it contains.

There are a couple inbox formats in Gmail which, to a degree, are replaced by bundled labels in Inbox.
  • Tabbed Inbox - The system-defined categories displayed in the inbox tabs are almost identical to the system-defined categories bundled in the inbox. They both represent system-define filters, who's behavior you can modify, which collect similar messages into a specific label. But the filtering is more complex than what a regular user-defined filter can achieve with address or keyword searches.

    They are of course displayed differently as tabs in the Gmail inbox versus bundled labels in the inbox list of Inbox. And as noted in the table above, there are more pre-defined system categories in Inbox than in Gmail.

    Tabs allow one to ignore low-priority categories until a later time. The problem is that you have to remember to check them eventually as they do contain unread inbox messages. Bundled labels can optionally be set to automatically delay appearing at the top of the inbox to either once a day or once a week (for less important categories). They are harder to miss as they appear more prominently in the inbox.

  • Priority Inbox - Gmail's Priority Inbox allows any of the four sections to display the contents of a label (in addition to some pre-defined options like Unread or Stared). And that label could be manually added to messages or assigned with a filter. This makes them similar to bundled labels which is simply a filter assigned label displayed in the inbox.

    A simple label can not be bundled in the inbox. A filter assigned label can be bundled into the inbox. And as noted above, you can add a null-filter to any label thus allowing it to also be bundled into the inbox.

    And similar to how a sub-section of the Priority Inbox can be set to "Hide section when empty", Bundles will tend to sink down in the inbox until a new messages forces it to the top again. But unlike Priority Inbox sub-sections, Inbox Bundles can be also be set to only appear once a day, or once a week making them less intrusive.
If you did not use the Priority or Tabbed Inbox in Gmail, then Inbox bundles may seem confusing or unnecessary. If so, you can turn them off so they are no longer displayed in the inbox. That allows the message to be listed individually in the inbox. This makes the Inbox by Gmail inbox similar to the classic or default inbox in Gmail - a simple collection of all your messages.

Unfortunately the Important/Unread/Starred-first inbox formats do not have an equivalent in Inbox.


We are going to define the use-model as how one views and manages new messages when they arrive in the account. One's activities in an account extend well beyond just dealing with new messages, but for the goal of understanding how Gmail and Inbox compare, this one aspect is sufficient.


There are a variety of options for the Gmail inbox format. This provides a lot of flexibility in the way one can organize and manage both new and old messages in the inbox. This also contributes to Gmail's complexity as it may not be obvious what all the choices are, how to use them, and the ramifications of those choices. The confusion can be greatly increased when changes are forced upon users as the Tabbed Inbox was. The Gmail inbox can be any of the following.
  • Classic (single unified inbox)
  • Tabbed Categories (system-define organization)
  • Priority Inbox (user-define organization)
  • Important/Unread/Starred First
In contrast Inbox provides a relatively simple inbox that really only has one optional component: the inclusion of labels bundled in the inbox.
  • Unified Inbox (with a very different appearance compared to Gmail)
  • Bundled labels (optional)
In effect, Inbox only has one inbox format which can include or exclude one or more bundled labels. If the lack of inbox formats is too restrictive, you may want to keep using Gmail. If you are relieved by the simplification it brings, Inbox may be the perfect choice.

Message Attributes

Gmail provides a wide range of automatic and manual ways to mark messages with various attributes. Most of these can be simultaneously added to an e-mail making its exact status very complex (a given message can show up in multiple locations).
  • Categories:  Social, Promotions, Updates, Forums (automatically applied)
  • Importance markers (automatically applied)
  • Stars (manually added or with filters, multiple colors and shapes)
  • Labels (manually added or with filters)
  • Archive (remove the inbox label)
  • Personal level indicators (enabled in Settings->General)
Inbox provides a smaller set of attributes creating fewer "buckets" to put messages in resulting in less complexity.
  • Categories:  Travel, Purchases, Finances, Social, Updates, Forums, Promos, Low Priority, and user-defined
  • Pin (keeps the message in the inbox)
  • Labels (manually added or added with filters)
  • Done (remove the inbox label)

Message Actions

Considering the above, the options available in managing new messages in Gmail are almost infinite. The inbox may be organized in one of several formats, and then there is a long list of actions you can perform on any specific message.
  • Mark as read/unread
  • Mark as important/unimportant
  • Move to a different category
  • Label (add or change)
  • Move to label (label + archive)
  • Star (multiple colors and shapes)
  • Archive
  • Delete
  • Report Spam
On the other hand, Inbox has basically a single inbox format and a shorter list of actions which can be performed.
  • Move to label (or bundle)
  • Pin (flags the message in the inbox)
  • Snooze (causes the message to reappear as new at a specified date/time)
  • Done (remove the inbox label)
  • Move to Trash
  • Move to Spam
With the exception of Snooze, everything listed for Inbox has an equivalent option in Gmail. But several of the Gmail options do not exist in Inbox.

Gmail or Inbox by Gmail?

So, which one should you use? Most of the above can be reduced to just a couple key points for each product. But remember the comment made at the start of this article: Inbox is not simply a user-interface change to Gmail, it as an entirely new product.
  • Gmail
    • Customizable - multiple inbox formats and message organization options
    • Flexible - many message attributes to manage e-mail
  • Inbox by Gmail
    • Simple - easy to learn and use
    • Consistent - the same user-interface on all platforms
Of course there's no reason you can't use both. You could use Inbox on a day-to-day basis, or on mobile devices, and then use Standard Gmail for more complex activity like creating non-labeling filters, multiple message selection, emptying Trash and Spam, etc. Gmail and Inbox by Gmail are just tools and you should use whatever helps you manage your e-mail the best.

So feel free to continue to use Gmail, switch to Inbox, use both as appropriate, or use neither if you prefer your installed e-mail client. The choice is totally yours.

July 4, 2014

E-mail addressed to me intended for someone else

So you are receiving e-mail in your account that is intended for someone else.  It's bothersome if it was sent to your exact e-mail address.  It's confusing if they are using an address similar to yours differing only by a single character or perhaps capitalization.  It's scary if it was sent to a totally different e-mail address.

So why are you receiving this person's private e-mail, and what can you do about it?

This article is going to explore some of the reasons why you might be receiving e-mail intended for someone else from a slightly more technical point of view.  For Google's simpler overview on the subject you can see:  https://support.google.com/mail/answer/10313?hl=en and for another excellent article see:   http://gmail-miscellany.blogspot.com/2012/08/wrong-email-gmail-dots-issue.html

We will somewhat arbitrarily divide this problem into two cases:  that of receiving e-mail to a similar address as yours, and that of receiving e-mail to a totally different address.

Messages sent to an address similar to your own.

Question:  What's the difference between the following US phone numbers?
  • (123) 456-7890
  • 123-456-7890
  • 123.456.7890
  • 1234567890
Answer:  Nothing.  While the syntax is different, they each represent the same unique phone number owned by a specific individual.

Question:  What's the different between the following Gmail account names?
  • first.last@gmail.com
  • firstlast@gmail.com
  • First.Last@gmail.com
  • firstlast@googlemail.com
Answer:  Nothing.  While the syntax is different, they each represent the same unique e-mail account owned by a specific individual.

There are several differences allowed in the format of a Gmail address that do not actually represent a different account.  This means that an e-mail address can contain any of these syntax differences and it still represents the same unique account.

Gmail ignores dots (periods, full-stops, ".")

Gmail does not treat dots in a GMail address as significant.  That is, first.last@gmail.com is the same address as firstlast@gmail.com or any other combination like f.i.r.s.t.l.a.s.t@gmail.com.  Gmail simply allows users to enter a dot as a convenient word separator, like you add dashes or dots when writing your phone number.  And since Gmail does not allow the creation of duplicate addresses, it's physically impossible for both first.last@gmail.com and firstlast@gmail.com to exist as unique accounts.  Once one form of the address has been created, all other forms will be rejected as a duplicate (the account already exists).

This has always been true since Gmail first was introduced in 2004.  And even then, people were posting about it.
April 30, 2004:  http://www.errorik.com/archive/2004-04.htm
July 17, 2004:  http://itsmygmail.blogspot.com/2004/07/gmail-address-variations.html

Here's the current Gmail help article on the topic of dots in Gmail account names: https://support.google.com/mail/answer/10313?hl=en

Gmail ignores capitalization

Similar to the above, the case of the characters in a Gmail address is not significant.  That is, first.last@gmail.com, First.Last@gmail.com and FIRST.LAST@gmail.com all represent the same account.

As stated in the "Username" section of the article at:  https://support.google.com/accounts/answer/1733224
Username. You will use your username, which will also be your new Gmail address, to sign in to your Google Account. Your username isn’t case sensitive, and you can use letters, numbers, or periods.
Gmail treats @googlemail.com as equivalent to @gmail.com

The domain googlemail.com was used in a few countries (like the United Kingdom and Germany) in the first few years of Gmail.  But no matter which of the two domain names is used in an address, it still represents the same account.  In fact all mail addressed to a @googlemail.com address is delivered to the matching @gmail.com account.

More information about googlemail.com can be found here:  https://support.google.com/mail/answer/159001?hl=en

Why am I getting their e-mail?

So if you own all forms of your address (ignoring dots and case) then why is someone else using your e-mail address?  To start with, they absolutely do not own a duplicate copy of your account using a dot/case variation of your account name.  You already own it and duplicate accounts are not allowed.  They created a different and unique e-mail address.  They probably started with first.last@ and discovered that account was taken.  So they might have added a middle initial giving them first.m.last, or perhaps a number at the end like first.last.56@.  Whatever they added, it resulted in an account with a different name than yours of first.last@.

The problem came when it was time to give someone else their address or use it to register at a web-site.  They remember what they wanted (first.last@) not what they actually created (first.m.last@) and give out or use the wrong address.  The result is that any e-mail sent using that address, is correctly sent to where it was addressed (you).  This means you are receiving those messages which are addressed to you (first.last@) but actually intended for someone else (first.m.last@).

So how do I fix it?

The only way to resolve this problem is to get the other person to realize their error and start using or giving out their correct address.  But given that you don't know who they are or their actual e-mail address this can be hard to accomplish.

Contacting the web-site they used your address on is seldom effective because they typically don't understand the problem and don't want to get involved.  Contacting individual senders may only be helpful if they understand the problem and have another way to contact this other person.

The best option is if one of the messages you receive intended for them has some contact information like a phone number.  You can then call them.  Here are some tips for trying to resolve the issue.
  • Start by expressing concern for their privacy because you have been receiving e-mail that was intended for them.  Listing some senders or web-site names can help prove you really are getting some of their e-mail.
  • Do not be confrontational.  They probably aren't doing this on purpose because most people want to receive the e-mail that is intended for them.
  • The problem started because they don't know their actual e-mail address.  So if you ask them what their address is expect them to say it's the same as yours (perhaps with dot/case differences).  But that doesn't mean it is the same as yours (since that's impossible).  That's the whole problem, they don't know their actual address and are using the wrong one.
  • The easiest way to show them their actual address is to have them click on their picture/avatar and have them read the address from the top/right of the drop-down panel.
  • You can also have them send you an e-mail (yes, they may believe they are sending it to their own address).  The From and Reply-To header fields should contain their actual e-mail address.
With a little patience you can help them figure out their correct e-mail address.  Be sure to remind them to update any web-sites with the correct address as well as notify any contact that may have the wrong address saved.

Messages sent to an address totally different than your own.

The other case is when you receive e-mail addressed to a totally different account than yours.  It may be just slightly different with an extra/missing character or two (for example first.last@ and first.last.56@), or it may be a completely different name which shares nothing in common.

The simplest situation is when your address is in the Bcc field (which means it is hidden) and another address is in the To field.  This is most common for spam messages which are often sent in groups addressed to similar addresses.  One address is in the To field, and the rest in Bcc.  So if you receive spam addressed to someone else, your address was also included but in the Bcc and you can't see it listed.  Receiving such a message does not indicate any sort of delivery problem.

The more complex situation is when someone mistakenly setup forwarding from their account to another account, but much like the dot/case problem above, they forwarded it to an address they thought they owned (but are wrong).  You will often need to look at the full message headers to identify this situation.

To see the full headers of a message, click next to the Reply button and select "Show original" from the drop-down menu.  A new tab will open that will include the full headers of the message.

We will now look at a number of actual headers collected from Gmail help forum posts that demonstrate some of the ways one might get a messages addressed to someone else.  In these examples the actual e-mail addresses have been changed to protect privacy.  We'll use first.last@gmail.com to represent your address, and first.m.last@gmail.com or someone@blahmail.com to represent the address the message was actually sent to.  We'll also throw in a fake sender address and server names to complete the headers.  To save space and simplify the examples, most of the header content will be excluded retaining only the significant parts that prove the forwarding.

Gmail Forwarded To Gmail

Perhaps the simplest and easiest to spot case is when a Gmail account is forwarding to another Gmail account.  This is obvious because Gmail adds X-Forwarded entries to the header documenting the forwarding.
Delivered-To: first.last@gmail.com
X-Forwarded-To: first.last@gmail.com
X-Forwarded-For: first.m.last@gmail.com first.last@gmail.com
Delivered-To: first.m.last@gmail.com
To: <first.m.last@gmail.com>
From: <sender@sourcemail.com>
Headers are read from the bottom (where the To, From, and Subject lines appear) up to the top (where the finally Delivered-To line appears).  So these headers show the message being delivered to the address specified in the To line, then forwarded on to the final destination.

These cases are interesting because Gmail requires e-mail verification while setting up the forwarding.  That means someone with access to the receiver's account had to click a link to accept the forwarding (whether anyone remembers doing it or not).

Other Provider Forwarded To Gmail

Sometimes other providers will insert a record into the headers to show forwarding, but they can be a bit harder to spot that Gmail's X-Forwarding records.  For example:
X-Get-Message-Sender-Via: root.blahmail.com: redirect/forwarder owner someone@blahmail.com -> first.last@gmail.com
But generally, forwarding from other providers to Gmail can be a lot harder to identify because often there is no clear forwarding record added to the headers.  Sometimes the only way to tell is by watching the message progress to the specified server and then suddenly switch to Gmail, as in this example.  There may not even be a Delivered-To entry to show it arrive at the specified address.
Delivered-To: first.last@gmail.com
Received: from gateway.blahmail.com ([])
        by mx.google.com with ESMTPS id s1si20675769
        for <first.last@gmail.com>
        Thu, 29 May 2014 05:58:16 -0700 (PDT)
Received: from host.sourcemail.com (host.sourcemail.com []
        by gateway.blahmail.com (Postfix) with ESMTP id 8063E660000
        for <someone@blahmail.com>; Thu, 29 May 2014 07:57:36 -0500 (CDT)
To: someone@blahmail.com
From: sender@sourcemail.com
So the message progresses from the sender's server (host.sourcemail.com) to the receiver's server (gateway.blahmail.com) destined for someone@blahmail.com and then suddenly switches to the Google server (mx.google.com) destined for first.last@gmail.com when the forwarding re-directed it.  There could be a Delivered-To entry in there, but, like the case above, there may not be one.

Server Forwarded To Gmail

Sometimes the forwarding can take place as the server level as it possible with Google Apps accounts.  In this case the forwarding takes place when the message arrives on the destination server, but before it is delivered to the specified address.  Similar to the above, the message can suddenly change direction without any signs of a Delivered-To entry.
Delivered-To: first.last@gmail.com
Received: by mail-pa0-f51.google.com with SMTP id kq14so4423283
        for <first.last@gmail.com>; Fri, 09 May 2014 06:19:23 -0700 (PDT)
Received: from server.sourcemail.com (server.sourcemail.com. [])
        by mx.google.com with ESMTP id px17si1832577
        for <someone@blahmail.com>;
        Fri, 09 May 2014 06:19:23 -0700 (PDT)
To: someone@blahmail.com
From: sender@sourcemail.com
In this case blahmail.com is a Google Apps domain.  The message is re-directed just like account forwarding, but there is no forwarding in the account.  It's actually defined at the server level.  There are no X-Forwarded records since it never got to the account to be forwarded.  This is common with Google Apps for Education accounts.

The key here is that it was received by Google servers for someone@blahmail.com before being redirected to first.last@gmail.com.  Since Gmail always adds X-Forwarded records, that meant the forwarding was done before it reached an account.  In this case the server forwarding was confirmed by the poster once the probable cause was pointed out.

Use Of Bcc

Just to round out the header examples, here's a case where the Bcc header was used.
Delivered-To: first.last@gmail.com
Received: from server.sourcemail.com (server.sourcemail.com. [])
        by mx.google.com with ESMTPS id cw6si22943103
        for <first.last@gmail.com>
        Thu, 03 Jul 2014 00:16:29 -0700 (PDT)
From: <sender@sourcemail.com>
To: <first.m.last@gmail.com>
In this case there are no other servers involved because the message was sent directly to the final account (no forwarding involved).  It's confusing because of the different address in the To field and the fact that there is no indication of all the other recipient addresses.

It's interesting to note that this specific example included an empty Bcc record which acts as a sort of hint or indicator that there are additional hidden recipients.  But there is no guarantee that and empty Bcc record will always appear in the headers.

Fetching Instead Of Forwarding

There is one other rare case to consider because sometimes the path of messages doesn't involve forwarding at all as in this example:
Delivered-To: first.last@gmail.com
X-Gmail-Fetch-Info: first.m.last@gmail.com 1 smtp.gmail.com 995 first.m.last
Delivered-To: first.m.last@gmail.com
To: <first.m.last@gmail.com>
From: sender@sourcemail.com
In this case the message was properly delivered, but then was fetched by the final destination using POP3 (Settings->Accounts->Check mail using POP3).  What made this case interesting is that the user didn't remember setting up the POP3 fetching and so was surprised to be getting e-mail addressed to a different account name.

Alternate Reply Address

One final case to mention is the use of an alternate reply address in the message someone might send.  In Gmail it's specified in Settings->Accounts->Send Mail As.  So a person may send a message from first.m.last@ with a reply address set as first.last@.  So when the receiver replies, the message goes where it is addressed:  first.last@.

The difficulty with this is there is no way for you as the receiver of the message (intended for someone else) to know what happened because it's correctly addressed and delivered to you.  The only way to identify this case would be to see the headers of the original message that was replied to.  There may be a Sender or Return-Path line in the header showing the actual sender while the From line shows the alternate reply address.
Delivered-To: someone@blahmail.com
Return-Path: <first.m.last@gmail.com>
Sender: first.m.last@gmail.com
From: <first.last@gmail.com>
To: <someone@blahmail.com>
The only reason this may come up is if you reply to someone@ telling them of the wrong address and they respond that all they did is reply to the message they received.  What would be the hint of what is going on if you chose to investigate.


So what does it all mean?

First, you can be confident that every message in your account was addressed and properly delivered to your account (or perhaps fetched from another account).  There are no delivery errors.  That does not mean the message was intended for you, just that it was addressed and delivered to you.

Second, you can be confident that no one has the same account name as yours (including caps or dots).  If you receive a message intended for someone else but addressed to you it is because someone gave out or used the wrong address.

Third, it may take some work to figure out just how the message got to your account.  It's easy if they accidentally used your exact address or a similar address (dots, caps) in error.  It's clear such messages will be delivered to your account.  But it will probably take a study of the full headers to identify the cause (forwarding, fetching, Bcc) when the e-mail address is different than yours.

Finally, you can also be sure that while you do appear to be receiving someone else's e-mail because they are using your address in error, they are not receiving your e-mail.  Your e-mail is still addressed to and delivered to your account as normal - it cannot arrive in someone else's account unless it is address to their (different) e-mail address.

So don't panic if you receive e-mail intended for someone else.  The e-mail system didn't make a mistake delivering it to you, although some person may have made a mistake addressing or forwarding it to you.

April 18, 2014

Adding Attachments to Gmail

This article will briefly review the changes made to the image insertion and attachment interface in Gmail that was introduced in April 2014 (Official Gmail Blog post).  If you are interested in information about viewing and downloading attached files, the following article will be helpful:  Attachments in Gmail

When the new Gmail compose format was introduced in 2012 (Changes to Gmail Compose) the interface for attaching and inserting inline images also went through some significant changes.  See the above article for screen-shots of the new compose interface.  The 2014 update made a minor change to the list of attachment options:  the old camera icon for inserting an inline image has been replaced with a picture icon (plus the word "new", temporarily).

You may have some or all of the above icon choices.  Each icon has a pop-up description as shown in bold in the following list.

Attach Files - opens a file manager window to find and attach files from your computer.

Insert files using Drive - opens a viewer so you can select documents from Google Drive which are added as links to your message.  You can also drag-and-drop or use a file manager to add a new file to Google Drive and then add a link to your message.

Insert Photo - opens a view so you can add images inline or as attachments from various sources.

Attach money - This option was removed some time back.

Insert link - allows you to insert a link to a document or page on the internet.

Insert emoticon - provides a selection of colorful emoji to add to your message.

Insert invitation - allows you to send a Google Calendar invite.

Clicking on the Insert Photo icon opens the totally re-designed image insertion dialog.

If you have not placed any images in your Google+ Photos page then you will see this page instead.

You will notice four tabs along the top which define the various sources from which you can insert images.

Although if you don't have Google+ in your account you will have fewer choices.

Photos - This tab shows the same data and photo thumbnails as the “Highlights” tab in Google+ Photos, except that there will not be any pictures owned by other people.  You may select multiple photos to insert into your message.

Albums - This tab shows the same data and thumbnails as the “Albums” tab in Google+ Photos.  Selecting an album will insert a link to the album and all the pictures it contains into the body of your message.  You may also double-click to push into the album where you can select individual pictures.

Upload - This section shows a screen where the user can drag-and-drop an image, or open the local file browser to upload a file from the computer. Attaching a local photo will not upload the photo to Google+ photos.

Web Address (URL) - This section shows a screen where the user may specify the URL of an image on the web to use.

In addition, any time you are viewing individual pictures (any screen except Albums and Image URL) the lower/right will provide a choice of inserting the image inline or as an attachment.  Notice that the default is inline.  Albums are always inserted as a link, and Image URLs always are shown inline.

Of course when you are done (or if you wish to abort) the lower/left has the Insert and Cancel buttons.

Once an image is inserted inline, you can click on the image to see a number of re-sizing options.  In addition, the four corners of the image have drag handles (the blue squares) allowing the image to be dragged to any size desired maintaining the aspect-ratio of the image.

The basic work-flow to insert one or more pictures would be as follows:
  1. Select the picture source, one of the four tabs, along the top.
  2. Select one or more pictures in the center area.
  3. Specify if they should be inline or attachments in the lower/right.
  4. Click Insert in the lower/left.
  5. If the image is inline, re-size as desired.
The Gmail help article for attachments can be found here:  Add Attachments
The Gmail help article for inserting images can be found here:  Insert images into your messages

Keep in mind that the total size of Gmail messages is 25 megabytes (MB).  If you want to send attachments that are larger than this, you can share them from Google Drive (as shown above), or use one of the many file sharing sites available (like DropBox.com).

This updated interface supports all of the image attachment and insertion options previously available in a more symmetric and comprehensive way that should support most anything you wish to do with photos in e-mail messages.  And if you previously used drag-and-drop to place inline images from your computer into messages, that still works exactly as before.

October 30, 2013

The New Google Sign In Page

Last update:  07/2017

In 2013 Google released a major re-design of the Google sign-in process changing both its look and function.  In 2017 Google released a minor update with some small changes and also made the look-and-feel consistent across all platforms (computers and mobile devices).  This article will walk through how the sign-in page works now and the options available.

Typically when signing into Google you will be signing into a specific product, like Gmail.  Many products have their own initial landing page.  For Gmail, when you go to https://mail.google.com/ it will look something like this.

This page, or one like it, is what you may see the first time you try to sign into some Google product on a computer.  This is basically an advertisement for that product and since it's your first visit it emphasizes the buttons to create a new account.  If you already have an account, click the "SIGN IN" link in the upper/right.  If this is the first time signing in on this computer or device, you'll see the following pages to enter your e-mail address and password to sign into your account.

When you are done with your account, you should sign out.  Be aware that just closing the browser does not also sign you out of your account.

This returns you to the above page asking for your password to sign into the account again.  If you want to sign into a different account, click the small 'v' symbol on the right of the password entry page to go to a page where you can request to "Use another account".

Just as above, you would enter the new e-mail address and password to sign into a different account.  But now when you sign out you would see the page above with multiple accounts listed.

If you select a listed account, you will see the password screen where you can finish logging in.  Or you can add another account to the list like before.  If you wish to remove some or all of the listed accounts, click on "Remove an account".

Clicking the 'X' to the right will remove that account.  Click "Done" at the bottom when finished.

There are some additional options displayed as blue text on the Sign In and Password pages seen above.  "Forgot email?" will start the process to request a forgotten e-mail address from Google.  Likewise, "Forgot password?" will start the process of lost password recover.  Both of these are documented in detail in the following article:  http://gmailaccountrecovery.blogspot.com/

The "More options" link will display a small context-dependent menu which includes "Create account" and perhaps some other platform dependent choices.

Hopefully that makes the changes to the sign-in process a bit more clear  Just remember that you are signing into your Google account, in order to access a specific product.  Once you have signed into your Google account you have access to all the other products and services you use in that account.

October 26, 2013

My Gmail Is Acting Strange

Sooner or later it happens to most all Gmail users.  Some function stops working, or perhaps a part of the user-interface is missing or doesn't look correct.  There are various of problems or "glitches" that can show up in your account.  The good news is that most of the time there is a simple, straight-forward way to fix them.

If you have spent much time in the Gmail Help Forum you've probably seen long lists posted by people of things to try.  Unfortunately some users will skip these list:  "My problem is much too complex to be fixed by clearing the browser cookies."  Or they will skip some steps thinking:  "There no way any of the Gmail labs could cause this."  But much too often that is incorrect and they fail to fix their problem by skipping something simple they could have tried.

So it's important to follow some check-list like the one below anytime you have a problem in your Gmail account.  With luck, one of the items will fix the issue.  If not, you may be able to narrow the problem down to something much more specific making it easier to identify and fix.  And if they don't help you will have at least ruled out the most common causes of problems.

Of course there are some things these obviously won't help with.  Clearing browser cookies won't help you remember a forgotten password.  If messages you sent to another account bounce with an error, trying it on another computer probably won't help.  And disabling browser extensions is unlikely to help you recover an accidentally deleted message from Trash.  On the other hand, none of these will make things worse so it never hurts to try them if you're unsure of the cause of some problem.

So before you post to the help forum, ask someone for help, or pay for third-party support, make sure you've tried all these simple fixes first.  You should also write down the results of each one and be prepared to share which items (if any) helped with the problem and which didn't.

The following list is basically in priority order.  That is the first items have the best chance of fixing or isolating the problem.  Some items, like clearing the browser cache/cookies, may fix the problem.  Other items, like trying another supported browser, are diagnostic giving you more information about the nature of the problem.  Be careful about skipping any as some side-effects can be subtle and totally unexpected, like a lab causing the Help choice to be missing from the gear-icon menu (Help link gone missing in Gmail).

Clearing the browser's cache and cookies, then exit and re-starting the browser.

This simple item tends to fix more strange problems in browsers than anything else.  Many people make this a normal part of their computer usage doing it on a regular basis.  And it's always the first thing to try if there's something unusual going on with Gmail.

This article provides instructions for several major browsers:  http://www.google.com/support/accounts/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=32050

Updated your browser to the latest version.

There are many problems that can be caused by running an older, no longer supported version of your browser.  It is also very important to be using a supported browser with Gmail.  This not only means which browser you are using (Firefox, Chrome, IE, etc) but that you have the latest version.  If your browser is unsupported or out-of-date, fix that next.

Supported Browsers:  http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=6557

Try using another supported browser and another computer.

Many problems are caused by using an old version of a browser that is no longer supported, and often browser will simply act differently.  Testing your issue on several browsers will help you determine if it's browser dependent (only fails on one browser).

Trying a different computer can help you rule out some computer-specific causes.  And you should always test a computer on a different network (like at work if you normally access Gmail at home) to rule out any network/firewall/ISP issues.

This step is diagnostic.  Discovering that your problem only happens in one browser doesn't fix it, it just suggests that it's a browser issue instead of something else.

Disable Internet Explorer's compatibility mode.

If you use Internet Explorer, you need to disable the compatibility mode which defaults to enabled:  http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=181472.  The fix will not work unless you also un-check the 3 options at the bottom: "Include Updated Website lists from Microsoft," "Display intranet sites in Compatibility view" and "Display all websites in Compatibility view."  After making the changes restart the browser.

This is clearly a browser-specific fix and is strongly indicated if the previous test showed the problem only present in IE.

Try both the Standard version (https://mail.google.com/) and Basic-html version (http://mail.google.com/mail?ui=html) of Gmail.

This is another diagnostic test which can help rule out account problems.  If you are logged into the Standard version of Gmail you can test the Basic version by simply opening its URL in another browser tab.  This makes it easy to do a side-by-side comparison of the problem in each version.

Disable all browser extensions and add-ons.

Browser extensions can cause all sorts of unexpected side-effects.  This is especially true of any extensions specifically designed to interact with Gmail.  One should always try disabling everything that's been added to the browser to see if the problem goes away.  If it does, a little additional testing can usually determine which specific extension/add-on caused the problem.

Related to this test would be testing in an incognito window (Chrome) or running Safe Mode (Firefox).

Disable/delete any browser toolbars (like Ask, Bing, Yahoo, etc).

While similar to the above test involving extensions/add-ons, this one specifically addresses disabling or deleting any toolbar programs you have installed for your browser (they may not show up as an extension/add-on).  Again, you simply want to rule these programs out as a cause.

You can typically uninstall these by going to the Control Panel \ Programs and Features and looking through the list for any toolbars you have seen displayed in your browser.

Disable any labs features you are using.

There are many useful functions available in Settings->Labs.  But as the disclaimer at the top of that page says:  "They may change, break or disappear at any time."  It is important to rule them out as a cause of a problem by disabling them all and re-testing.  You can disable all of them at once by using:  https://mail.google.com/mail/?labs=0

Temporarily disable your anti-virus scanner.

Some problems in Gmail, especially related to missing parts of the user interface, can be caused by an anti-virus program blocking access.  But it’s critical that you also disable any internet or e-mail related extensions/add-ons it has as the blocking may be specific to internet activity or e-mail.

Don't forget to re-enable it after the test.

Disable any other monitoring or internet protection programs (like Net-Nanny).

There are other types of malware, ad-blocking, and child protection suites one may have installed.  Like the anti-virus test above, these should be temporarily disabled to see if the Gmail problem is being caused by their activity.

Uninstall and re-install your browser.

This is related to the above test making sure your browser is up-to-date.  But sometimes if a problem seems to only happen in one browser, it's worth re-installing it on your computer to clear any problems with the installation that may have developed.  If you don't tell the uninstaller to clear settings, all your personal information should still be present after the browser is re-installed.

Supported Browsers (contains links to download various browsers):  http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=6557

Disable Settings->Offline->Offline Mail if you use it.

It's pretty rare for Gmail Offline to cause a problem, but if nothing else is helping it's worth testing.  See:  Settings->Offline

Verify that your computer's system date, time and time-zone are set correctly.

There are some problems with web-site security certificates as well as e-mail time-stamps that are easily fixed by making sure the time settings are correct on your computer.  Do not overlook the timezone setting.  You can typically access this by clicking on the time displayed on the task bar, and selecting "Change date and time settings...".

Delete and re-installing Flash and Java on your computer.

This probably isn't one you'd do unless there was some indication that there was a specific problem with one of these packages.  But again, it never hurts to make sure all the software on your computer is up-to-date and cleanly installed.

Oracle Java:  http://www.java.com/en/download/index.jsp
Adobe Flash:  http://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/