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How Gmail Is Different

Conversations, labels, stars, archiving, & search

Here are some key features that make Gmail different from Microsoft Outlook.

Email conversations instead of multiple messages
Labels, stars, and importance markers instead of folders
Archiving online instead of saving to your desktop
Google-powered search

Email conversations instead of multiple messages

Rather than listing each message reply as a new message in your Inbox, Gmail, by default, groups a message and its replies in a conversation, which is listed only once. Opening a conversation shows all its messages in a neat stack, which you can easily collapse or expand. When a new reply arrives, the stack grows and the conversation is marked as unread, indicating there’s something new to look at. Grouping messages this way allows you to quickly retrieve all messages within a thread and reduces inbox clutter.

Here’s how a conversation appears in your Inbox…

…and here’s what an opened conversation looks like:

Tip: If conversations aren’t for you, you can simply turn off the feature in your Gmail settings, on the General tab, under Conversation View.

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Labels, stars, and importance markers instead of folders


Instead of organizing messages in folders, you can organize your Gmail conversations by applying labels. The conversation can remain in your Inbox with the label clearly shown. Here’s an example:

As shown in the example, if a conversation applies to more than one topic, you can give it multiple labels.

If you’d like to move a labeled conversation about of your Inbox, just click the Archive button. Whether or not a a labeled conversation is archived, you can list all conversations that have a specific label by clicking the label name in the left pane of your Inbox — similar to opening a folder of messages:

Unlike with folders, if you’ve applied more than one label to a message, you can retrieve the message by clicking any of those labels. You can also build a hierarchy of labels to add the convenience of folder-like nesting!


The Stars feature provides another way to categorize and access messages. Simply click the star icon to the left of any message to highlight it. You can then display all starred messages by clicking Starred in the left pane.

Tip: You can add more shapes and colors for your stars in Gmail settings: click the gears icon in the upper-right corner of your Mail window, then click Mail settings and look for the Stars section on the General tab. After you’ve set up your stars, just click the star icon repeatedly next to a message to rotate through them.

Importance markers

The Importance Markers feature to let Gmail automatically categorize messages in your Inbox as important with a yellow arrow to the left of the subject line. (To see why a message was tagged as important, just point your mouse over the yellow arrow.)

You can also tag messages with the importance marker yourself, or remove the tag from any messages. Just select the message and click the Importance buttons at the top of your Inbox:

You can also display all tagged messages by clicking Important in the left pane:

The Importance Markers feature is turned on by default. To turn it off or on, click the gears icon in the upper-left corner of your Gmail window, then click Mail settings > Priority Inbox.

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Archiving online instead of saving to your desktop

With Gmail, you no longer risk running out of space for storing email. Instead, you get 25 GB of online storage space for just your own email and attachments, all hosted on Google’s secure servers. With that much space, you no longer need to save messages on your desktop in personal folders (PST files) to free up disk space, but can archive messages online instead. Just select a message and click Archive:

An archived message is removed from your Inbox but you can still find it later by clicking All Mail in the left pane or using search. Or, add labels to messages before you archive them for even easier retrieval.

Tip: Your All Mail link might be under the drop-down list in the left pane:

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Gmail features the same powerful search technology used on the Web to perform accurate keyword searches of all of your email and attachments. Search by keyword, label, date range, or a host of other options. By also archiving messages, you can instantly find any message you’ve ever sent or received, without having to create elaborate folder structures or keep unwanted correspondence in your Inbox.

To find messages, simply type in the search box at the top of your Mail window. Or, for more refined searching, click Show search options:

Then fill in the easy-to-use search form to find exactly what you’re looking for!

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