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Google's Gmail service raised the bar for Web-based email when it launched in April 2004, offering users 1GB of storage space in "the cloud" for free. When weighing up Gmail against other Web-based email services, and traditional local desktop clients, there are several distinct features that will make a difference to the way you work with your messages.
Advantage: your email everywhere
One advantage Gmail has over using traditional clients such as Outlook or Thunderbird is that you can get at your email messages from anywhere -- they aren't locked into one hard drive on one computer. Gmail complements its Web access with native mobile apps for iOS and Android, and a mobile-optimized version for viewing on the go.
Advantage: advanced search and filters
Coming from Google, you would expect Gmail to offer speedy and flexible search, and this is the case. You can query many gigabytes' worth of email in seconds, looking for keywords, attachments or contacts, and restrict your searches by date if required. Any advanced search can be quickly turned into a filter too, enabling you to process your emails automatically as they arrive in your inbox.
Disadvantage: online access required
Gmail's online ethos can be both a blessing and a curse. Should your Internet connection go down, your email archive is frustratingly out of reach. Gmail does have a limited amount of capability when offline, but it's not the same as having all of your past messages stored on your hard drive. If you need an attachment from last year, for example, you're stuck until your Internet connection is restored.
Disadvantage: email privacy
Gmail is offered as a free service but this comes with the understanding that your emails and your interactions on the site are used to target you with advertising around the edges of your messages. While the scanning is an automated and anonymous process, it can be a step too far for some in terms of personal privacy.
Advantage and disadvantage: integration with other products
Gmail is tightly integrated with other Google services, such as Google+ and Google Calendar (emails from these services include options to respond without leaving Gmail). There's also a Google Chat widget embedded in the Gmail interface and you can utilise Google Drive to send larger attachments. If you use Google's other services on a regular basis, you'll love this feature; for others, it may well come across as a disadvantage.
- Adam Berry/Getty Images News/Getty Images