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A View from Erica Naone

Where Gmail Is Going

A Google staff engineer outlines a few of the Web application’s next steps.

  • June 25, 2010

Google staff engineer Adam de Boor gave a keynote this morning at Usenix WebApps ‘10 in Boston, where he outlined a few of Gmail’s next steps. The webmail application, which launched in 2004, has aggressively added new features in the years since, and is currently launching as much as one new feature a week.

De Boor said that there’s currently a big push at Gmail to figure out how to take maximum advantage of HTML 5, a standard Web technology that’s been increasingly adopted by browser vendors. HTML 5 allows web applications to behave more like desktop applications, and Gmail recently started allowing users to attach files by dragging them into the browser window.

In the future, the company hopes to extend that by allowing users to download files by dragging them out of the window. By improving its applications this way (and by making complementary improvements to its Chrome browser), Google plans to show that Web applications truly can do everything desktop applications can do.

The company also plans to use HTML 5 to pursue its obsession with speed. In particular, Google’s experiments with HTML 5 and the associated CSS 3 show that using those technologies could speed up Gmail’s load time by 12 percent.

The company has also been researching a new model for Web applications that could speed up load times even more. In experimental builds of its Chrome browser, Google has started allowing users to install Web applications, meaning that the browser keeps a page for that application always loaded in the background. This means that the Web application always has up-to-date data, and is always just a click away. When the user types the URL for the application, the browser links the user to that preloaded background page, speeding up the time it takes to get to the service.

By applying this technique to Gmail, De Boor, said, the hope is to get the webmail application to load in under a second. Google’s vision for the speed and behavior of Gmail is likely to set a standard for Web applications across the board.

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