In 2004, anyone with 2MB of online memory said that this was a pretty cool thing - so when Google announced a free web-based email service with 1 gigabyte of storage, everyone Look on April 1st - and imagine it's April Fool's joke.
Some joke. Today, Gmail is the world's favorite e-mail system - it has surpassed the previous winner, Hotmail in 2012 - and it continues to provide a familiar combination of a rather dreadful interface (on web, at least the great Android version) and large amount of free storage. This amount is currently 15GB shared across all of your Google services.
It also changes the way we think about communication. Email has become something you can easily find, and huge storage space means ending up in tedious mailbox management.
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Gmail introduced us to the conversation about software that is occupying software and email services today, creating mobile email applications before anyone hears the iPhone and with the introduction. A dedicated tab for promotions, marketing tools.
More than anything, it encourages everyone to embrace the cloud.
The way Gmail did it right
Gmail is not the first cloud service. This is not the first cloud-based email service: webmail was started in the early 1990's and was popular with Hotmail, which was launched in 1996. However, Gmail has done better and that part is due to technology support it.
Prior to Gmail in the days when 2MB was a lot of webmail hosting means Hotmail
Prior to Gmail, in the days when 2MB hosted, webmail meant Hotmail
The launch is a masterstroke too. Rather than just launching products - and having to endure the inevitable power catastrophes that a high-profile rocket launch will certainly do - Google has taken on a more strategic Willy Wonka.
Gmail was launched as a guest-only service, a move that made the first app clapping and gaining Gmail. The invitations were hot tickets of 2004, sold on eBay for silly money, and the service was still available until 2007.
The launch is not the only thing Google is right. Gmail has become one of the longest running beta versions of all time, officially becoming the complete product of 2009.
This means that the service has gone through five years of being labeled as a work in progress, with Google adding and deleting features when it suits. The beta mark means any criticism of the service is silly: it's free, it's beta and you're complaining.
The launch of Gmail not only excites email users. It also stimulates the developers. Two of these developers are Sam Schillace and Steve Newman, who found the Ajax attractive and wondered if they could use it to create an online word processor. They can, and their Writely product was launched in 2005. Google loves it because it bought the company. Writely and a previous acquisition, 2Web Technologies, will eventually become Google Docs.
What does Gmail do with email? Google Docs does everything else: apps that run in your browser are good enough for many people and do not cost a penny at a time when the Office still pays hundreds of pounds. And like Gmail, they're fast. Today we are used to the experience of web applications and applications on nippy phones, but back then web-based software requires heavy or slow downloads. Google has changed all that.
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