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Finally: Gmail multitasks more smoothly

You can open messages in new windows quickly and easily in Gmail, making Google's Web-based e-mail service better at doing several things at the same time.

Google finally has taken care of a pet peeve I've had since I switched to Gmail in 2008: not letting me doing more than one thing at a time.

I commonly have several e-mails under way at the same time or have to search for earlier messages while writing a new one. I'd have to fire up a separate new Gmail tab, which can mean an annoying delay even with a solid Net connection.

But with the fast new windows feature in Gmail, it's easier to create multiple Gmail interactions nearly instantly--at least for some folks.

"Unfortunately, we weren't able to make this work in Internet Explorer, so to see the speed-up, you'll need to be using Mozilla Firefox, Apple's Safari, or Google Chrome," said Google programmer Michael Davidson in a blog post.

One example: In a message, clicking the "new window" icon toward the upper left splits that conversation out into a separate window. When you send a reply, the window closes automatically (after a 10-second delay if you have the "undo send" feature enabled in Gmail Labs--a feature I recommend).

Clicking the 'new window' button to the upper right of a message window will make it pop out into a separate window.
Clicking the 'new window' button to the upper right of a message window will make it pop out into a separate window. screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

However, I had a couple hiccups. When I deleted a popped-up conversation with the "#" keyboard shortcut, the pop-up persisted until I closed it. When I hit "e" for archive, it also stayed up. And although undoing an archive operation worked OK, undoing a delete operation didn't work. But hey--the undo operations are Labs features for a reason.

My preferred way of dealing with the pop-outs doesn't even involve the mouse (but I'm a keyboard junkie). Another way you can use the feature is to hold the shift key when you click on a message in your in-box (or hit shift-O if you have keyboard shortcuts enabled). In this case, the conversation pops up in a separate window. The shift key trick also works with reply, reply all, and forward.

You also can pop instant message chats out separately.

Google also said the feature doesn't outlive the original Gmail tab the pop-out windows come from, so be careful if you have work in progress.

Next pet peeve: can we please now get a way for the contacts list to pop up quickly?