Google will gradually roll out Pop3 support over the coming weeks to Gmail users, allowing them to download e-mail messages from Gmail servers to e-mail applications.
Pop3 support will let users transfer server-based Gmail messages to a client-side e-mail application such as Outlook and store the messages on their local hard drive. Users with wireless devices that have Pop3-compliant e-mail clients will also be able to download their Gmail messages to personal digital assistants or mobile phones.
These and other possible enhancements, such as adding further wireless device support through WAP or XHTML, are part of Google's attempt to turn Gmail, which is still being beta-tested, into the most feature-rich web mail service available.
"We want to make it the best e-mail service in every single dimension so you have absolutely no reason to use any other," said Georges Harik, who is in charge of new projects at Google and whose title is director of googlettes, the term the company uses to refer to this type of effort.
Radicati Group analyst Teney Takahashi said that while Pop3 support was important, Gmail also needed a calendar and schedule manager, which rivals already offer with their web mail services. Yahoo web mail service, for instance, offers a calendaring system that integrates with various versions of Outlook.
"Right now, Gmail is very good at managing mail but I'd like to see the service extended to other areas of daily life: managing your schedule and possibly being able to synchronise that with your desktop client, like Outlook, would be very valuable," Takahashi said.
He also advised Google to consider getting Gmail into final release soon so that Gmail accounts were generally available rather than by invitation only from the company. Pop3 support may signal that Google is getting close to that final-release stage.
Google considers Pop3 support a must-have for Gmail.
"This is a very important feature that every e-mail system should provide," said Harik. "We're going to make it easy both to transition into and out of Gmail so you can use the best possible e-mail reading interface. We're making our way down the list of things so in the end you'll be able to access Gmail on everything."
A Google spokesman said while Gmail users were served up text ads that appeared next to the body text of messages, ads would not appear with messages downloaded via Pop3 to the client e-mail applications.
Also in the works is beefed-up antivirus protection. Currently, Gmail protects users against viruses by blocking messages with certain files attached, such as program files. Harik said a full-fledged virus-scanning feature was on the horizon for Gmail.
"We block executables and other things that are usually carriers of viruses so most viruses don't get through, but there are always weird file types," he said. "So we're working on getting a full antivirus scanning solution to add to the current list of things that we do."
Google will also continue to sharpen Gmail's spam blocking and filtering capabilities, which are based on technology the company develops internally. Gmail currently detects phishing scams and provides a button to report them as such to Google. "We intend to develop the best spam filter in the industry," said Harik.
Takahashi said the efforts showed that Google was taking the threat of spam and phishing very seriously. "They have been very closed about what technology they're using for antispam filtering but it seems to be very effective."
Juan Carlos Perez writes for IDG News Service