Happy 10th birthday Gmail -- Google's greatest ever April Fools' Day surprise

Whether you love or hate them, Google’s April Fools' Day announcements are something we’ve come to expect, and they’re usually pretty creative, even if they don’t fool many people. Some of this year’s pranks include Google+ Auto Awesome Photobombs with The Hoff, Gmail Shelfie and Google Maps: Pokémon Challenge.

Ten years ago though, Google made what was easily its greatest April Fools' announcement ever -- introducing the world to Gmail, a new free webmail service. Few people fell for it though, as the 1GB of free storage being offered was too fantastical. Hotmail, the market leading service at the time, gave its free users just 2MB and had a policy of ruthlessly deleting new messages once that limit was reached. If you wanted to increase the size of your inbox to 10MB you could, but at the cost of $19.95 a year. And here was a search engine promising 500 times as much storage, for free? Yeah, right. Nice try Google!

The new invite-only service turned out to be real though, and was unlike any existing webmail product, with fancy threaded conversations, a powerful anti-spam filter, labels in place of folders and searching instead of sorting. It was nothing short of revolutionary.

I was lucky enough to get an invite from a friend soon after it launched, and it’s been my default email service ever since (although I did briefly route my messages through Outlook.com).

Over the past decade, Google has significantly increased the free storage on offer, and added numerous features, including a built-in spellchecker, themes, and optional Labs functions, including the excellent Undo Send, which I couldn’t be without.

Gmail has also undergone a few fairly minor cosmetic tweaks over the years, but hasn’t really changed drastically. Some of the newer additions, such as god-awful tabs view, have been about as welcome as a poke in the eye, but at least they’ve been optional.

The truth is though, in recent years, Gmail (on the desktop at least) has been allowed to stagnate. Once it was the hotbed of innovation, now it’s simply still a damn good webmail service, that’s falling behind Outlook.com, Microsoft’s reinvigorated Hotmail replacement.

Having been at the top of its game for much of the past decade, I suppose we can cut Gmail some slack, but it would be great to see Google rolling out some big new features for the service in the near future not just minor tweaks, or ones designed to ram ugly adverts down our throats.

Do you still use Gmail or have you switched to a different service?

© 1998-2014 BetaNews, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy.