Preview Pane: New Gmail Feature

Gmail labs has rolled out a new feature called Preview Pane.

It’s similar to the preview panes in other email programs; e.g., Yahoo Mail, so I’m not terribly impressed. I’m not a fan of Yahoo Mail, AOL Mail, or Hotmail, though I was a user of all of them for years. It’s not good to be similar; Google needs to be dissimilar, forward-thinking, to impress me. I especially loath Yahoo Mail because the premium version is included in the bill for my Yahoo web site account. And I don’t care what anyone says, it’s crap. But that’s another post.

First of all, this is not a preview pane, it’s a reading pane. A preview pane implies that the email you’re viewing can be opened further after previewing, in a normal reading mode. In Gmail’s new feature, there’s no intuitive method of opening the resulting email further. You can open it in a new tab or new window if you know how, but that’s not a normal reading mode for Gmail. You cannot then, for example, move to the next conversation.

As a side note, does anybody know why the Gmail icons for opening an email in a new window and creating a document from it in G-Docs are exactly the same?

Since the layout of the page in Gmail with Preview Pane is different than other layouts for Gmail, the code for Webmail Ad Blocker doesn’t work yet. That would make it better.

I’ve always thought Gmail should be one of the places where Google just sets aside the whole ad-supported free stuff paradigm. I understand we are the product not the customer, but they’ve got our eyeballs on a lot of other places. And e-mail is such a personally critical interface, where one often needs to work without distraction. (Yes, I sometimes use IMAP with Thunderbird or Outlook, but prefer the Web interface.)

If you follow the link above and read about Preview Pane, you’ll see a very nice screen shot. There are no ads visible, which makes the example disingenuous; a prevarication, let’s say. And it was done on a Mac. I have nothing against Mac except the price. But as a technical documentation matter, unless the topic pertains to use of a Mac, the screen shot should be done with a Windows PC, not Mac OS or Linux. Windows is the most common platform.

Like other preview pane layouts, there’s a toggle for putting the pane on the right or across the bottom, which is nice. But when you toggle the Preview function off, you find that the feature disables Multiple Inboxes, another useful Gmail Labs feature. The only way around that is to go back to Gmail Labs and disable Preview Pane.

I’m always happy to see new Gmail features, and appreciative of Google’s innovations in the tools I use every day. I’ve been a Gmail fan since the day I got my Beta invitation and first logged in. Threaded conversations may have saved my sanity. And I realize improvements are probably underway to Preview Pane, but so far there’s very little there yet to say Wow about.

PDF Documents Not Pictures Please

Here’s the problem: You get an email. Attached is a file that’s supposed to be a document. You want to print it on paper. But it’s a JPG or a TIF or a BMP, a photo of the document (we’ll just call it JPG). You open it, it’s looks OK. You try to print, and encounter calamity.

Printing a JPG photo image onto paper is complicated. It’s not the same as printing a Word document or a PDF.

(Regular readers of my blog may recall previous rants to the effect that PDF is the world’s standard for sharing documents. Word is for documents you are still working on, never for finished stuff. JPG is one of many formats for storing and sharing photos, not documents.)

Word and PDF have standard printer settings. 8.5×11 inch, plain paper. You hit print, it prints. Easy.

With a JPG, you have to program the settings first. It needs to know – How big you want the photo to be on the paper? Portrait or landscape? Color or not? Glossy or plain paper? And so forth. 

So scanning a document and saving it as a JPG for someone else to use is not a good idea. And it’s too bad that most scanner software assumes you are scanning photos, not documents, so a photo is what you get back by default.

There are 2 easy ways for the sender to prevent this.

  1. When you scan a document, just tell the computer you want PDF instead of JPG. Here’s how I do that:

    I scan the photo with Photoshop, click File > Save As… and change JPG option to Photoshop PDF. What comes out is a PDF document, which anybody can print.

    Click this photo to enlarge.

    photoshop save as

  2. If you use a scanner software that does not have the option to save as PDF, all you need is a PDF maker. They’re free. My favorite is bullzip.

    You download it, install it, and it acts just like a printer connected to your computer.

    After you scan the document, you Print it, but change the printer from your paper printer to Bullzip, and a PDF is created in seconds.


If you are the recipient of the JPG “document,” believe it or not you do the same thing. If you have Photoshop, open the JPG with that program, click File > Save As …  and save it as a PDF.

Or install a free PDF maker and you can make PDF files with whatever program you prefer to use to view photos on your PC.

Bonus Tips

Why does Photoshop make PDFs? Because Photoshop is made by Adobe, which makes Acrobat, which makes PDFs.

How do you scan a photo or a document with Photoshop?

  1. Place the image or document on your scanner – usually face down.
  2. In Photoshop, select File > Import. A list will appear.
  3. Select the device into which you placed the image; i.e., your scanner or printer/scanner. (You should see your scanner’s name listed, or the words, “Twain Acquire,” or similar.)
  4. Follow the instructions on the screen – they are different for every scanner.

I hope this helps.

disappearing firefox toolbars

This has happened to me a few times now. I’ll be messing around with Firefox toolbars, or with an extension, add-ons, or something. Next thing I know, one or all of my toolbars will disappear.

I keep my toolbars hidden when I’m not using them, except the main navigation toolbar. Minimalism is good. I’m not talking about hidden, I mean they’re gone – broken – nothing there but a dead strip of gray space where the toolbar is supposed to be.

If you’re fiddling with customizations, you probably know that you can turn them off and on, hide them, etc.  That’s the basic first step to check, found in most usergroups. It won’t work because we’re talking about fubar toolbar, not accidentally hidden. But just so you know:

Right click on an open area of a toolbar and you’ll see a list of toolbars you can click.

If you can see your menu bar (File, Edit, etc.), click View > Toolbars, and there’s the list.

If you can’t see your menu bar, press Alt.

But what if you can’t see your Navigation Bar, for example, and Firefox won’t turn it back on for you?

Go to View > Toolbars > Customize, and press the Restore Default Set button.

That should get things back to normal. It may also be necessary to restart Firefox. This will not save your toolbar customizations, but they’re gone by now anyway.

Firefox is great for letting us customize things, in ways that are far superior to Internets Exploder or Chrome. But letting us do it doesn’t mean Firefox always has to like it.

Bonus Tips

I mentioned you might not be able to see the menu bar. By default, the menu bar is always visible in Firefox; you can’t hide it. But there’s an add-on available that lets you do exactly that.


As in most Windows programs, in Firefox F11 = full screen, Esc to return to normal.