Google fine-tunes Gmail's IMAP access options

The company now gives people some precise control over how other e-mail applications can use Gmail with IMAP. It's minor, but it shows the wisdom of Google's approach.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
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Some of the tweaks that arrived with the launch of Gmail Labs are fairly silly (Mail Goggles and Old Snakey spring to mind), but a new option that arrived Thursday makes it increasingly apparent that Google is doing something right with the e-mail service.

The company launched Advanced IMAP Controls in Gmail Labs, a feature that lets users fine-tune the behavior of the IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) technology that outside e-mail services or software can use to access Gmail accounts.

For example, you can limit which of your mail labels are exposed as folders to outside e-mail clients to improve performance. That's useful, according to the Gmail blog posting, "if you find your mail client choking on a big All Mail folder," the often-overstuffed location where Gmail messages are archived so they're still available but not in the way.

Of course, technically savvy folks might enjoy this option. But the bigger reason this is interesting is it shows how flexible an infrastructure Google has built under Gmail. That's powerful because the company can monitor how often people use the options, and how that affects Gmail's performance and utility.

And because the Gmail Labs options are largely independent of each other, Google can test many improvements simultaneously. The overall approach lets the company gradually morph Gmail rather than release massive, disruptive overhauls. Perpetual flux aside, though, I still think that it's time to take Gmail out of beta.

(Via Google Operating System.)

Gmail Labs lets people fine-tune settings for IMAP, which is used to let other e-mail software access mail stored with Gmail.
Gmail Labs lets people fine-tune settings for IMAP, which is used to let other e-mail software access mail stored with Gmail. Google