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GlideFree Web mail gets an 'A' for effort, a 'B' for everything else

There are some bright ideas found in GlideFree Web mail, but also some clunkers.

GlideFree logo

High on my list of New Year's resolutions for 2008, no joke: e-mail friends more often. Since time is a major constraint, I want my e-mail interface easy to get around, an enabler for quick composition. Write it up, send it out. These are the greatest drawbacks to GlideFree, Glide's beta Web mail release, which has over-enthusiastically swaddled some useful and even clever functionality in unnecessary layers.

For example, GlideFree simplifies the attachment process by bringing attachable multimedia options to you in a drop-down menu, rather than making you embark on the usual hunting and pecking expedition for the files scattered all over your directory. Bravo! Then it ruins the fun by forcing the recipient to open three separate browser tabs just to view an attached video.

And why, for instance, is there no field for simply typing in a destination address? Why must you click into the address book and add even one-time recipients, and then navigate an additional drop-down menu each time you select a repeat contact? In another head-scratcher, there's a short drop-down list of symbols in the beneficial built-in word processor--math symbols. Somehow it was determined that users would favor the 'not equal' sign and Greek 'beta' to accents, tildes, and trademark symbols.

GlideFree plays 'fetch' with your multimedia attachments.

Yet GlideFree rolls out some good ideas, like the handling of multimedia attachments mentioned above. There are actually two attachment icons side by side, plus another one in the composition tool bar. Click the red arrow for traditional directory browsing, but better yet, click the envelope icon to call forth a menu for selecting documents, images, video, music, blogs, and bookmarks.

Then there are the nifty buttons that clone messages, thereby allowing you to send a personal-looking missive to multiple destinations while avoiding the dead giveaway of blindly carbon copying everyone on your list. You can also schedule a time to send those messages, giving you more say-so over your data distribution. GlideFree furthermore takes a tip from multinetwork IM clients by siphoning your e-mail messages from multiple accounts into a central inbox, and doing it not through e-mail forwarding, but by signing you in.

GlideFree's privacy features are also worth noting. First, there are no ads, which means there aren't any automated spiders searching your mail and determining which words are relevant to target. If that doesn't concern you, but control over your attachments does, you can stipulate in GlideFree a recipient's rights over attachments you send. At their most strict, users can only view attachments; at their most lenient, users can modify files and images.

In a nod to mobile access, videos sent through GlideFree detect and transcode in the device's preferred format. There's also a fair bit of interoperability. E-mail archiving supports PDF and Microsoft Word exporting in addition to exporting into Glide's own online word processing alternative, GlideWrite.

Neat huh? It is until you encounter a few seconds of lag time each time you change screens--opening an e-mail, composing a new message, adding a contact, adding attachments, setting view rights, cloning messages, and so on. Add to that the pointless separation of functions that could easily cohabitate a window, and you'll begin to see if you're actually a patient person. Plus there's that interface that manages to look simultaneously cramped and awash in white space; well, gray. If looks don't bother you, then the fact that you have two inboxes probably won't either. One is for GlideFree mail; the other, for your other e-mail accounts (currently just AOL, .Mac, and PostOffice.)

GlideFree has a two gigabyte storage cut-off, compared to Gmail's almost-six. A $50 year subscription with GlideFree nets you ten extra gigabytes; with Google, it's $20, plus agreeing to view targeted ads.

I can really get behind some of GlideFree's features, which, on average, give users good control over creating and sharing content. Contrast that with Gmail, which offers more control over storing and archiving messages. In terms of butting out of your e-mail and improving attachment workflow, GlideFree scores points. In terms of speed and storage, it loses them to a much larger, ad-spewing rival. GlideFree will have to do some serious speeding up and smoothing out of its Web processing if it hopes to win over contented Gmail users.

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