Back in 2007, Gina Trapani from Lifehacker introduced a Firefox extension called Better Gmail. Better Gmail was a collection of a variety of Greasemonkey scripts that added features (or took away annoying interface elements), that made Gmail better. Hence the name. In the three and a half years since then, the extension has been updated and then re-branded as Better Gmail 2. There hasn’t been an official Better Gmail for Google Chrome users, but never fear, as there is an extension called “Better Gmail (unofficial)” that does a lot of the same things, and yes, it does make Gmail better.
Better Gmail (unofficial) – which I’ll now be calling simply “Better Gmail” for brevity’s sake – is really simple to use. Just install it, then activate the features you want from the extension’s options page. What can it do?
Remove Ads / Fix page width / Reposition print button
Yes, that’s all one feature, and no there’s no way to split them up, but they all work together. First, all the ads generally seen to the right of an open email are removed. Then, now that there is a blank space there, the page width is fixed so that the email takes up the full width of your browser page or tab. After this is done, there is no room for the Print button (which used to be placed above the ads), so it is repositioned. This is probably my favorite feature of Better Gmail.
Hide Invite Friends Field
All three of these “Hide…” options are pretty self-explanatory, so I didn’t feel I needed to say anything specific about each one. But I love the fact that I can get rid of the chat box. I used to get rid of it, since I chat on other networks, but now I keep it around since I use the phone call ability. I always hide the footer, since I don’t have much need for the information it contains, and the same goes for the invite friends field… Gmail is open, so my friends don’t need an invite like they used to when Gmail was new, and if I really want to invite a friend who isn’t on Gmail, I just need to email them, and Gmail asks if I want to invite them (or I can just send them an email inviting them!).
I’m not going to discuss every single feature Better Gmail makes better, but there are a few other options I use regularly. One is the option to show attachment icons. When someone sends me an attachment, all I generally see is the paper clip icon. It doesn’t matter if I was sent a picture, a word processing document, a PDF or a video… the same icon is used for all attachments. Better Gmail, on the other hand, can swap out the generic icon for one specific to the content. This is a great feature, and one Gmail should probably implement on its own.
Another nice feature is row highlights. With the standard Gmail interface, mousing over your inbox changes nothing. With this feature turned on, each email receives a yellow highlight as you pass over it, making it easier (or at least more attractive), to ensure you’re clicking on the correct email. Finally, I like the option Better Gmail includes to use Gmail for all the mailto links I might click online. Generally, those links would open my default email program, but since I always use the Gmail web interface (and don’t actually have a desktop email application installed), the links do nothing. Before, I’d have to copy the link, open up Gmail, create a new email and then paste in the email address I’d copied. With Better Gmail, I just click the checkbox and Better Gmail sets my browser to use Gmail with those links, so now I just click a link and a new Gmail opens up automatically. Brilliant!
As I said, I’m not going to cover everything Better Gmail does, although you can see all the options in the screenshot I’ve included. Better Gmail is one of those extensions that really has no interface. There’s no toolbar button, no pop-up window or notification… all it does is make Gmail better. And that’s a worthy goal, in my mind, and one it does very well.
Note: I’ve included not only the link to the Google Chrome extension below, but to the original Lifehacker announcement back in 2007, as well as the current version of the Firefox extension, for those interested in a similar experience using both Google Chrome and Firefox.