What’s Going on with Gmail?

Writing a Blog Entry (by StarbuckGuy)

Upgrades can be annoying. Some are smooth and well tested while others are more of a setback than an upgrade. Some, like Microsoft VISTA, are an outright disaster. We brought in VISTA on Marion’s new laptop with lots of CPU horsepower and 3GB of RAM and gave it a three-day workout. Drivers broke. Some software didn’t behave well. Worse, we didn’t like the new interface at all and the OS was highly intrusive, as in “Do you really want to do that?” messages popping up frequently. It wouldn’t do wireless at all with my home setup of WEP 128-bit encryption, something that’s never bothered Boingo. Of course Boingo (at the time we tested) wouldn’t run in VISTA.

So, we “upgraded” to XP. Windows XP may not be sexy like Mac OS X, or cool like Linux, but in recent times it’s become very stable and driver support for third-party products has been excellent. It also runs faster with fewer demands on resources. Do we require 64-bit computing for a home PC? I think not.

With XP and Boingo Marion was back on our home wireless net and we managed to replace all the Dell drivers with XP versions. Things were good again.

Good, that is, until Google decided to “upgrade” Gmail. This one really hurts. I’m a big Gmail fan and converted years worth of Unix mbox-format email that I uploaded to Gmail. Now I have my entire email archives online, as well as all my mailing addresses. I like Gmail’s workstation independence and the ability to access anything from any terminal or workstation with Internet access. This has proven highly useful on trips, not to mention just moving from machine to machine in the house.

But lately what I get mostly is a progress bar saying “Loading username@gmail.com”. I’m not sure what Gmail is attempting to do during this interlude, but most of the time it fails, starts over, fails, starts over, repeating this cycle until it either works (perhaps 20% of the time) or I get fed up and click on HTML Version. The HTML version works of course, but is missing many of the niceties of the full version.

There’s an option for setting HTML as the default and I’ve used it several times. Missing the extended features though, I pop back to the advanced version once in awhile, and once in awhile it works. When it works, there’s an option of using the “Previous version” of the advanced interface, but no way of setting it as the default.

Despite looking around the Gmail website and the Help sections, there is no acknowledge of this problem or any fixes offered that I could find. A Google search (how ironic) took me to a post that suggested nuking all the current cookies in your browser. My browser is the excellent Firefox browser from Mozilla. I don’t know if this “Loading …” problem exists in Microsoft Internet Explorer because I don’t use it.

So, on my desktop machine I nuked all my existing cookies and, sure enough, Gmail loaded and worked. For a day or two. Then it went right back to being unable to load. By nuking all my cookies I lost all the auto-logins to my discussion forums which was a serious annoyance given that the suggested solution didn’t work.

Up to that point the new interface software had worked fine on my Dell portable, but soon it too stopped being able to load. No way was I going to nuke my cookies again.

So, what’s up with Gmail? I’m not running anything unusual on any of my systems and all my Gmail use has been in Windows XP, a stable, known commodity. I can only surmise that the new interface got pushed out the door with inadequate testing. Perhaps with some serious programming flaws.

It’s things like this that can make the word “upgrade” a dreaded word among computer users. I hope Google fixes its problem or simply admits the problem is widespread and offers an option to make the “Earlier version” of the Gmail interface a default setting while they work on fixing the new one.

Sheesh!

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About Gene Wilburn

Gene Wilburn is a writer ~ photographer ~ humanist
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13 Responses to What’s Going on with Gmail?

  1. JohnB says:

    Um, er, I _think_ you mean you upgraded to XP (XT is an old model of the IBM PC).

    And I feel your pain. Software is such a house of cards that — once I have a comfortable, working configuration — I am very reluctant to do anything that might change it. The “cost” of recovery (reinstall OS, reinstall applications, restore backed up data — yes, I back up) makes me very reluctant to do anything that might compromise my working machine.

    You might want to try Opera which gives you good granularity over cookie control. Of course, because it is standards compliant, some sites which are IE compliant don’t work well but, then again, I rarely come across those sites so they must be quite rare since I surf (thanks to Reddit and Digg) all over the place.

  2. adam says:

    Gene

    I was not even aware that Gmail had been upgraded but I see now that there is a link to “older version” at the top of the page.

    I have Vista Ultimate, use Firefox (and trying Safari for Windows) and have had no problem. I was annoyed with Vista for a while but there are lots of little things that make it nice and the fixes and SPs issued by M$ have really helped with drivers, stability and such.

    There are lots of entries if you Google “gmail new version”.

    Good luck!

    Adam

  3. Gene says:

    <p>John, thanks for catching that brain fart. Yes, I meant XP and have corrected the posting. Though I can still remember installing dozens of XT machines in the old days.<br />
    .<br />
    Adam, thanks but no thanks to VISTA. I’ll wait for its successor which I hear MS is working hard on. VISTA has not been a success for them. Funny how upgrades hit some folks and not others. Gmail seems to have stabilized over the past few days, but not due to anything I’ve done locally.<br />
    .<br />
    Gene</p>

  4. JohnB says:

    Vista has been exactly the success that MS expected. Yes – there have been all sorts of reports of problems and lots of individual pushback from, well, individuals. But corps? They are installing it in the volumes and at the rate that MS expected. Larger corps don’t buy licences … they buy a process (“Volume Licensing Agreement”) which, effectively, obligates them to move to various releases on a predetermined schedule so that they can continue to get the support that they are paying for. They can choose not to move, but they will still have to pay the maintenance fees and those maintainance fees will be for the specific version that MS defines in their contracts. So if the contract specifies that support will be for Vista from (as an example) June 1, 2008 then the corporation can choose to continue to use XP but they won’t get any support for it and they will still be on the hook for the annual fee.

    Since MS knows what the contracts state for software, dates and volumes, it’s easy enough (using a spreadsheet like Excel ) to know *exactly* how many licences will be sold and in which month they will be sold and how much revenue they will generate.

    Another thing to remember is that corps are behemoths. Availability of Vista is merely the beginning. Any non-trivial organization will have thousands of internally developed software solutions (often using legacy hardware printers, etc., that were specifically chosen because of a particular feature set). These must be individually tested and either confirmed as working or modified (and if the modification requires a revised driver because of the Vista driver model then you are at the mercy of the hardware’s driver supplier who would much rather sell you a new piece of hardware along with a new driver!) to work in the Vista environment.

    Retailers (Dell, HP, Lenovo, etc.) will also move to a specific release at a time that MS agreements tell them they have to move. Yes,

    Individuals, like you and me, can choose to buy an upgrade package to move to Vista or not. But upgrades in this market are numbers so small that they get lost in the rounding.

  5. JohnB says:

    (Gene: how do I create a blank like between paras?)

  6. Boczkowski says:

    Gene, yeah, that loading bar is a real pain ain’t it.
    It even made it all the way over here to the UK!

    I check my mail on my pda (Palm TX) and my wifes laptop both over wifi. I also have a linux desktop that cost me two quid, or four of your US dollars, on the eBay. The quickest at checking Gmail via a webpage rather than using a client (Thunderbird, Versamail or Sylpheed in my case)? The PDA of course.
    Why?
    Because I access the MOBILE web page which is of course a cut down version of the GMail inteface.

    So why not bookmark
    http://mail.google.com/m/products
    and
    http://mail.google.com/m/

    they can provide a handy and much less bloated workaround, should one be needed of course.

    pip pip

    Boczkowski

  7. Gene says:

    John, I don’t dispute that MS has successfully sold a lot of VISTA to corporations, because they force the issue by saying as of such-and-such date we no longer offer support for XP or whatever the previous version was. They do this to computer manufacturers too, who then only sell computers with bundled versions of VISTA.
    .
    However, they’ve had to extend that deadline for XP support due to both corporate and individual pushback. Also, with Linux making inroads on low-end PC’s and portable Internet devices, they’ve begun to re-think XP’s lifespan because VISTA simply can’t run in slim resources.
    .
    There is another factor. When I worked in a large corporation, I found it to be extremely conservative in its approach to IT. I arrived when XT was already selling well in the marketplace but they refused to move people up from Windows 2000 unless there was some demonstrated need. When I left five years later I was still on W2000.
    .
    The reasons they gave for not changing was that it was too costly to have software break and very costly to have to retrain staff to new versions of the OS. Also, machines that run W2000 fine might need to be upgraded to run XP. This applies in spades to VISTA. I’ve read enough computer newstories on the Net to know that many large corporations have, in fact, elected NOT to upgrade to VISTA.
    .
    I have also read that internal memos and comments have shown Microsoft to be very disappointed by the slow acceptance of VISTA in all quarters, and that they were working hard on its replacement.
    .
    I’m not privy to insider information — this is simply what I’ve read in many semi-reliable computer publications (not individual blogs).
    .
    Gene

  8. Gene says:

    Boczkowski, that’s a good approach, but I find the screen on my Palm XT smaller than I’d like to handle email. Today Gmail is behaving well. I hope it continues!

    Gene

  9. adam says:

    Gene, I expect you are right. The only reason I am using it is that I got an embarrassingly enormous present from two of my daughters, who know my fondness for graphic work – a new computer which of course had Vista. I am not a serious user of operating systems in the sense that I know nothing about them and if it works my programs better, that’s good and that’s all I want to know, thank you!

    But as one ignorant of what is under the hood, it seems to be getting more and more difficult for me to trouble-shoot things. That would be my main gripe about Vista.

    Adam

  10. Gene says:

    Adam, thanks for the comments. As with all operating systems, I could probably learn to live with VISTA if I spent enough time with it to learn to customize it and tame its annoyances. At some point I’ll likely be forced to come to grips with it, or its successor. If only Adobe would release Photoshop in a native Linux version, I could ditch Windows permanently. I can use The GIMP (and do) but it’s not Photoshop.
    Gene

  11. jannx says:

    Gene, I hate clearing cookies for the reasons you gave. The internet used to be good however it’s become a place for squeezing profits from users. Throttling, ads, advertising masquerading as search engines, security requirements that are on parallel with a national security agency are all part of the personal web users nightmare.

    I don’t think it’s going to get better… sigh

    Jan

  12. Gene says:

    Jan, the Internet is often bittersweet. There’s a lot of bad, questionable, or just plain annoying things going on, but there are still high-yield veins of gold ore in the strata. Despite the problems, I still get a kick out of it.
    Gene

  13. Gene says:

    The past two days Gmail konked out again on one of my XP computers (but not the other). I’d tried all the recommended cures to no avail so I thought I’d try something different. My browser is FireFox 2.x. In Ubuntu Linux, I’m using the new beta version, FireFox 3 and it’s been working well, so today I downloaded FireFox 3 for the problem machine, and guess what? Gmail works a treat.
    Gene

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