Man conducting a lab experimentGoogle has greatly expanded beyond its core search engine to offer a wide range of free online services. Easily one of the most popular of these is Gmail, the ubiquitous web-based email client that comes with loads of storage and the ability to handle multiple email accounts.

As powerful as Gmail may be on its own, the “crazy experimental stuff” being doctored up through Gmail Labs can greatly expand on this functionality and help to improve your productivity. This applies not only to the work setting, but also when it comes to handling personal content as well.

Gmail Labs, according to the official documentation, is a “testing ground for experimental features that aren’t quite ready for primetime.” As such, they may still have bugs. Then again, Gmail was in “beta” for five years and it was mostly problem-free.

To access the features being offered through Gmail Labs, click on the “Settings” link near the top-right corner of Gmail. “Labs” is one of the tabs available in the settings menu.

1. Gmail Offline (Google Gears)

Some people prefer desktop-based email clients over web-based ones, because the former allows access to the messages even when not connected to the Internet. Gmail Offline, which works through the popular Google Gears paradigm, overcomes this very concern.

Each time that you connect to Gmail on chosen computer, the Offline feature will synchronize the messages and attachments onto your computer’s hard drive. In this way, the familiar features of Gmail (and your messages) can be accessed when you aren’t connected to the web.

2. Message Translation

It would be nice if all of your business associates were fluent in your native tongue, but that isn’t always the case. Similarly, you may have a pen pal who prefers to write in a language other than English. What can you do?

With Message Translation, all messages received in other languages are automatically put through the Google Translate algorithm. This way, those cryptic messages you receive from international contacts can be more easily understood.

3. Superstars

Gmail already comes with the ability to “star” a message, but Superstars takes this functionality to a new level. Instead of a single yellow star, messages can be tagged with up to twelve different kinds of stars. This Gmail Labs feature can be customized under the General Settings menu, selecting which stars will be used.

Also, it is possible to use the built-in search tool to find all messages using each particular superstar. For example, entering the search term “has:red-star” will find all messages with the red star.

4. Custom Keyboard Shortcuts

Why click around with a mouse when you can do the same things so much faster with keyboard shortcuts? Gmail already has a series of default shortcuts, but many more can be personalized through the activation of the Custom Keyboard Shortcuts feature.

A new Settings tab is created to remap the keys for various actions within the Gmail interface, including composing a new email, searching for messages, and so on.

5. Google Calendar Gadget

Just as many people have come to rely on Gmail to handle their email, many have also moved their appointment books over to Google Calendar. This useful gadget integrates the two, giving a thumbnail view of the Google Calendar from right within the Gmail interface.

Sitting in the sidebar underneath the Chat box, the Google Calendar Gadget will display about the next three calendar entries. There is also an option to see a mini calendar for the current month and to add new entries without leaving Gmail.

6. Forgotten Attachment Detector

Have you ever had the experience where you sent out an email message but forget to include an attachment? Never again! The Google Forgotten Attachment Detector pops up with a prompt when you mention attaching a file in your message but forget to do so. This simple reminder can save you from a lot of embarrassment!

7. Undo Send

Speaking of saving yourself from a lot of embarrassment, we’ve all had the experience of sending out an email when we really didn’t mean to send it. By activating the Undo Send feature, you can stop those messages from being sent. After hitting the send button, you have a window of a few seconds to hit undo.

Image credit: yanlev / Fotolia.com

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