10 ways to kick the Gmail blues

I RECENTLY had the misfortune of trying to access Gmail over a slow Globe Tattoo connection. It was sheer torture to watch the progress bar crawl erratically toward completion, only to have Gmail choke and cough up an error message that told me what had become painfully obvious: my page was taking too long to load.

Google suggested that I try reloading the page (did not work) or use the basic HTML version (ugly, with limited features). Annoyed by the constant struggle simply to log into Gmail, I looked for ways to speed it up without resorting to the HTML version, which still feels awfully slow because of the way it refreshes the screen.

Fortunately, there are a lot of speed-up tips online. Some of them work better than others, and some of the advice is outdated because Google keeps updating the way Gmail works. Here are some that seem to help.

  1. Disable chat in Gmail. I put this as my top suggestion because I’ve noticed that Gmail often slows down when it tries to load the chat features. Some Web sites talk of a link at the bottom of the Gmail page that allows you to do this, but this advice is outdated and the link is gone. To turn chat off, go to Settings in the drop-down menu under the gear icon. Click on the Chat tab and choose “Chat off.” Don’t forget to scroll down to the bottom of the page and save changes. I’ve found that this really speeds up Gmail. If you really need the chat feature, consider running a separate messaging application such as Pidgin (Linux and Windows) or Adium (Mac). These will allow you to set up and use multiple instant messaging accounts, including Google Talk, without slowing down Gmail.
  2. Turn off Gmail Labs features. These extra services slow down Gmail. To turn them off, go to Settings and click on the Labs link and disable any features you don’t need.
  3. Use the no-browser check link. This is an old tip that still seems to work. Stop Gmail from checking what browser you’re using by adding the ?nocheckbrowser argument to the URL. On my browser, my shortcut to Gmail reads: http://mail.google.com/gmail?nocheckbrowser
  4. Show fewer messages per page. In the General tab of the Settings menu, choose a low number for the Maximum Page Size. I use 25 conversations per page.
  5. Delete unwanted messages. Clean out your inbox from time to time by archiving what you want to keep and deleting the rest. This way, Gmail doesn’t waste time loading up old junk mail.
  6. Clear your cache. Sometimes, clearing your browser’s cache seems to help Gmail get unstuck. This doesn’t always work, but there is no harm in doing it.
  7. Disable some browser extensions. While extensions can enhance the way your browser works, they can also slow it – and Gmail– down. Try disabling or removing extensions that you no longer need to speed things up a bit.
  8. Use a different e-mail program to access your Gmail. This tip is a little more involved, since it requires software installation and some initial setup. You can use Outlook on Windows or Mail on the Mac, or you can use a free, multi-platform e-mail client such as Mozilla Thunderbird. In Gmail settings, enable IMAP (Internet message access protocol) of POP (Post office protocol). I prefer to use IMAP because it keeps your messages intact on Google’s server and actions you take on your e-mail client will also appear in Gmail. This all happens automatically once you set up IMAP, so you don’t have to read or sort all your mail twice. One disadvantage of this approach: search doesn’t work quite as fast as it does on Gmail’s browser client. Also, this isn’t a suitable solution if you’re at an Internet cafe or using somebody else’s computer to access your mail.
  9. Go HTML. If none of these suggestions help, then by all means switch to the ugly HTML version of Gmail (http://mail.google.com/mail/?ui=html). You’ll have fewer features (no contacts autocomplete) and you’ll need to manually refresh your inbox to check mail, but you will eventually get your messages.
  10. Go mobile. An even more stripped-down version of Gmail is its mobile page (http://m.gmail.com), which is designed for phones. It will load, however, on any browser. The results aren’t pretty, but you’ll be able to read your mail quickly.

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