Gmail is a fantastic service from Google, and while it works seamlessly with email programs like Apple Mail and Entourage, sometimes it’s just simpler to use it in a web browser. Unfortunately, that can’t provide the finesse of a dedicated email application, which leaves the user experience feeling subpar instead of super. The good news is that Gmail’s completely scriptable, which means you can modify it to suit your needs. Don’t worry if coding isn’t your expertise--many people have written ready-made scripts that you can use to improve your experience in just a few clicks.
One caveat: the scripts we’ll help you set up here are only compatible with Firefox, so before getting started with this guide, head over to firefox.com to grab the latest version.
Difficulty Level: Medium
What You Need:
>> Firefox version 3.5.5 or above
>> An active Gmail account
You can install any add-on directly if you're viewing the page from Firefox.
You can find loads of scripts to experiment with here: userscripts.org/tags/gmail. But if you’re new to the upgrade process, browsing through dozens of pages can feel quite daunting. Instead, we recommend downloading a complete package like Better Gmail 2 (get it here), which is an assortment of extensions that you can use to transform your account’s display in Firefox into something more intuitive and a whole lot more useful. If you’re in the browser, you’ll see a green Add to Firefox button (if you’re not, you’ll see a Download button instead--that green button is the easier of the two).
Confirmation of this action is always necessary--just in case you change your mind.
Clicking Add to Firefox reveals a drop-down sheet that asks you to confirm your decision. Click Install Now and restart Firefox after the download completes. When your pages have loaded again, you’ll notice that along with your existing browser tabs (upper left), the Add-ons window will be open. (If you closed it out accidentally, don’t panic. You can also navigate to it with this URL: https://addons.mozilla.org.)
Tick all the ones you think you'll use. Don't like a script's effect? Untick it and refresh.
Launching Gmail again won’t immediately yield super-results. That’s because many of the scripts you’ve installed are switched off by default. Flip to the Add-ons window and click on Better Gmail 2’s Preferences button to open a window offering you 16 tick boxes spread across three tabs. From here you can switch on and off anything that sounds intriguing. (To get oriented, check out the Help tab, which explains what each script does.) To make changes take effect, simply refresh your Gmail page.
Let’s take a closer look at what some of the other scripts do. In the General tab, there’s Inbox Count First. This reorders what is displayed in your Gmail’s page tab, making sure your unread count appears first. Next on the list is Play Sound Notifications for New Mail. It’s a great idea, but strangely, it only worked for some of us.
To stop using an add-on, use either Disable or Uninstall.
Show Unread Message Count on Favicon alters the Gmail’s favicon (the little icon that appears on a browser tab) to show how many new emails you have, supplying choices from two scriptwriters. Meanwhile, in the Message tab, you can change the look of Attachment Icons. Rather than simply displaying a paper clip to denote the presence of an attachment in an email, a file icon will be shown instead, like a generic Adobe PDF icon. If you decide to use Attachment Icons (Native), your Mac’s default system icons will be used (so you’ll see a Preview file icon for a PDF file). Highlight Rows With Mouse Pointer is another script we highly recommend. As you move your cursor over a list, the script will highlight whichever row your cursor’s over, making it much easier to select messages.
No matter which scripts you decide to use, just remember to click OK and refresh your Gmail page for the changes to take effect. If you don’t like them, you can unclick their box, or, if you’re certain you’ll never use them, click on Uninstall to delete them (you’ll have to restart Firefox to see such changes).
Userscripts.org is a great repository of Firefox add-ons.
If you’re feeling a little more confident with your script exploration, consider visiting that site we mentioned in Step 1--userscripts.org/tags/gmail--to dive into its plethora of easily installable scripts. If you find one you like, click on the “How do I use this” link below any script’s download button, follow the simple instructions, and restart Firefox.
To check if any installed add-ons have been updated, click on this button.
Before you go, it’s important to know that scripts are frequently updated with fixes and new features. Thankfully, the Add-ons page has a Find Updates button in the bottom left of the window. Click it and Firefox will check your scripts for new versions, which is obviously much easier than checking them all manually (especially after you’ve installed a few dozens).