Google just announced a small but handy new feature for Gmail: one-click previews for Microsoft Word documents. This new features works for .doc and the more recent .docx format. Until now, Gmail's one-click preview feature only supported PDF files, PowerPoint documents and images in the TIFF format. The new preview feature for Word documents replaces the "view as HTML" option in Gmail.
The new Word previews definitely look far better than the HTML preview it replaces. It handles page breaks, footnotes and other more advanced features without any issues. If you want to edit the document in Google Docs, once additional click from the previewer will open the document for editing. You can also save the document to your Google Docs account without leaving the preview mode. Of course, you can also download the document and edit it in your favorite desktop word processor.
Where Gmail is Going Next
Google staff engineer Adam de Boor gave a keynote this morning at Usenix WebApps '10 in Boston, where he outlined a few of Gmail's next steps. The webmail application, which launched in 2004, has aggressively added new features in the years since, and is currently launching as much as one new feature a week.
De Boor said that there's currently a big push at Gmail to figure out how to take maximum advantage of HTML 5, a standard Web technology that's been increasingly adopted by browser vendors. HTML 5 allows web applications to behave more like desktop applications, and Gmail recently started allowing users to attach files by dragging them into the browser window.
In the future, the company hopes to extend that by allowing users to download files by dragging them out of the window. By improving its applications this way (and by making complementary improvements to its Chrome browser), Google plans to show that Web applications truly can do everything desktop applications can do.
The company also plans to use HTML 5 to pursue its obsession with speed. In particular, Google's experiments with HTML 5 and the associated CSS 3 show that using those technologies could speed up Gmail's load time by 12 percent.
The company has also been researching a new model for Web applications that could speed up load times even more. In experimental builds of its Chrome browser, Google has started allowing users to install Web applications, meaning that the browser keeps a page for that application always loaded in the background. This means that the Web application always has up-to-date data, and is always just a click away. When the user types the URL for the application, the browser links the user to that preloaded background page, speeding up the time it takes to get to the service.
By applying this technique to Gmail, De Boor, said, the hope is to get the webmail application to load in under a second. Google's vision for the speed and behavior of Gmail is likely to set a standard for Web applications across the board.