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Google continues to tinker and update its Gmail e-mail service at a steady clip. Back in 2008 Google launched Gmail Labs, a sort of test launch pad for new features its engineers dreamed up and users had the option of trying. These Gmail features "graduate" to the standard Gmail if they prove worthwhile. One example is Offline Gmail, which gives users access to their e-mail history even if they're not connected to the Internet, though it's limited to previous e-mails, and doesn't retrieve new ones.
Thursday Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) announced that it's adding six new features to Labs and retiring five that didn't make the cut. "These decisions were made based mainly on usage, taking feature polish and your feedback into account," Google software engineer Mark Knichel said in a blog postdetailing the changes.
The news comes as Google is making a strong push to broaden Gmail's appeal, including the recent controversial addition of Google Buzz, which brings social media features to the e-mail system. Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) has made similar moves to integrate social media features to its e-mail service.
Google is dropping Muzzle, Fixed Width Font, Email Addict, Location in Signature and Random Signature. Muzzle was designed to preserve screen real estate by hiding friends' status messages. Email Addict was an attempt to help compulsive messengers take a break by blocking the e-mail screen for 15 minutes. The Location in Signature feature used the public IP address from whatever computer or mobile device users were sending from to append the location (city, region, country) next to the signature.
Knichel said the discontinued features will stop working an disappear from Gmail over the next few days.
Gmail gets new features
The following new features are now available to Gmail users: Search Autocomplete, Go to Label, Forgotten Attachment Detector, YouTube Previews, Custom Label Colors and Vacation Dates.
The Search Autocomplete and Go to Label features have to do with Google giving users suggested terms as they start typing in Gmail's search box, including contact names, labels and advanced search operations.
With Forgotten Attachments Google is adding a twist on the Undo Send feature it released last year. Gmail can now look for phrases in your e-mail and if it sees something that indicates you meant to send an attachment – like "see attachment" – a pop-up message appears, reading, "Did you mean to attach files?" that offers the option of adding attachments before the message goes through.
YouTube Previews shows YouTube videos right in a message instead of having to click on the link.
Vacation Dates lets you enter dates you'll be away in advance so Gmail's Vacation Responder, which generates an "I'm away" message, kicks into action at the right time. Previously, users only had the option of turning on Vacation Responder when they were ready to have the away message activated.