Inbox by Gmail: Recommendations for Outlook.com

I got an invite yesterday to try out Google’s new experimental email management system – almost unsearchably (besides on Google Search) named Inbox. Ok, it isn’t that unsearchable, it has a rank of 4 when searching for “Inbox” on Bing (not including Google search here for obvious reasons), and most people would search for something like “Inbox gmail” or “Google Inbox” or “Inbox by Gmail”.

Overall, I consider it to be an inferior email management service compared to Gmail, and the service I use, Microsoft’s Outlook.com which is part of the free Office Online suite. It has a few new features, but that’s about it. It lacks some of the most basic features I’ve come to expect from an email management service.

For starters, I cannot “select all” emails from a list. For those used to the standard process of choosing conversations individually, Inbox makes things confusing on the front page. Choosing an item will actually choose the entire category like “Updates” or “Social“.

Google has long been a supporter of the “Delete nothing” cult, and has exercised this stubbornness by completely removing (as far as I can see) the “delete” option. As someone who already uses nearly 20% of free space on gmail (everything neatly organised into folders until I switched to Outlook.com) with active, regular deletion, without even using it as my primary email service any longer, I am utterly horrified by this step. It’s not a positive step for someone who wants a clean and clutter-free inbox.

Many elements, both design-wise and functionality-wise, seem to have been inspired by Outlook.com. The “pinning” feature is basically the “flagging” feature of outlook.com, “sweeping” is inspired by the “sweeping” feature of Outlook.com, etc. The repositioning of many features like “Hangouts” in the top-bar, are also undoubtedly inspired by Outlook.com. This is not to mention the general concept of material design, which is of course inspired from Microsoft’s Metro/Flat/Modern design language.

The UI seems to violate Google’s own recommendation for material design. The entire inbox is built using cards, but the cards don’t satisfy the conditions that Google states in it’s own material design recommendations. This leads to the layout becoming distractive and cluttered.

Overall, the new UI is not productive for serious use, as you are more likely to miss out important notifications and emails. It seems to be intended more for the casual user, the so-called “neo-netizen” who only uses email to chat with its friends, etc. It also lacks customisablity, and the settings are weak, even when compared to Gmail. For instance, it’s a degradation over Gmail’s already-poor email forwarding options.

Talking about customisability, one feature I really love about Outlook.com is the slightly underrated Rules feature for automatically sending your emails into specific folders. Fine that Inbox has better (than most email services) automatic sorting categories (“Finance”, “Travel”, etc. are pretty good ones), but I’m still not comfortable with leaving the job of organising my emails to an AI – I prefer to do this myself. For instance, I may value a particular forum I contribute to over others, and would prefer if that forum had a separate category. On outlook.com, you can set specific conditions, like “if from abcpqr@xyz.org then send to folder XYZ, forward to pqrzyx@abc.net” and I need not rely on an AI sorting my emails for me.

Recommendations for Outlook.com

As I’ve already said, I’m now an outlook.com user, and for my own personal interest, it would be to my benefit if I provide outlook.com-specific recommendations, rather than recommendations for gmail or yahoo mail. What I’m saying is, while I don’t like Inbox on the whole, I really envy some of the nice features it has, and would like Microsoft to put them in outlook.com too : )

  • To-do lists – This is a really good feature that Inbox presents – Microsoft has the advantage of being tied to a really full-featured note-taking program, that is OneNote. Why not let us display selected OneNote notes on a tab in our outlook.com inbox, or, optinally, on top of our onenote notes.
  • Snoozing – This is another nice feature in Inbox that helps keep a more clutter-free inbox, probably taken from Dropbox’s email client for Android and iOS, that is Mailbox. I’d like Outlook.com to shamelessly steal this feature, and improve upon it. For instance, I’d like snoozing to work not only based on time, but also where I am (my geolocation). For instance, I’d like to be able to “snooze till I return to Bangalore” or “snooze till I’m at my workplace”. This sends the email to a “snoozed” category until the trigger (like “2 hours” or “till I’m at my workplace”) is activated, when it returns to the inbox.
  • Updated version of “Rules” – As I’ve previously said, I love the “Rules” feature that helps me automate my email while still retaining complete control of it. However, I’d like it if it were slightly improved upon with inspiration from Inbox. I currently only use rules for emails which I don’t need to check. For instance, send emails from blabla@bla.com to “Blablabla” folder and forward to “bladlagla@algaldalb.org”, since it’s mostly a mail intended for bladlagla@algaldalb.org, not me. If Outlook.com had an option along with “send emails from … to … folder and forward to …” that “BUT display in inbox till I read”, then I could use the feature much more powerfully. Basically what I’m proposing is, that there should be an option that some of these emails which are automatically sent to a folder or forwarded, should appear in my main inbox too until I read them.

In summary, Inbox is basically another standard google product. Does something someone else (Mailbox in this case) tried to do, taking inspiration from other products too (Outlook.com in this case), innovating in that, succeeding at that, but also acting a little oversmart. In this case, they’ve missed a number of features, but considering that it’s a pretty new product, I’d excuse it for now : ) That’s about it.

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2060

Mozilla what? No, open source means immortality. We'll release your body as open-source hardware under CC-BY-SA, and people will fork you.
Mozilla what? No, open source means immortality. We’ll release your body as open-source hardware under CC-BY-SA, and people will fork you.

Look, an xkcd font to help me! The only problem is that the “2” looks like it’s from comic sans.

Naming smartdevices

A decade ago, we had two types of “smart” devices in common use – desktops and laptops. They were distinguished by their portability, and named based on the least you practically needed to keep the devices on. Practically because you can keep a huge desktop CPU box on your lap, and balance the display, keyboard, and mose over it. Most people used both of them on desks, anyway. Laptops were only just growing in popularity, while most people still preferred traditional desktops. Mobile phones weren’t that smart back then.

Fast-forward to 2014. No matter how much we talk of the breakdown of Moore’s law, it’s remarkable how suddenly the smartness is all around us. Minus the looming Internet of Things (after which will probably come the Internet of Brains), we already have a hoard of useful smart devices, each with their own perks and disadvantages.

  • Desktops, as usual.
  • Laptops, as usual.
  • Smartphones, you can do a hoard of activities with these little gadgets, but let’s say it’s most common purpose is calling, OK? What, WebRTC? Yes, I know. So what?
  • Tabs, Tablets, Phablets, or huge smartphones, they’re optimised for reading. I’d prefer to call them smartbooks.
  • Smartwatches, let’s say they’re optimised for telling the time and fitness recording.
  • Smartboards, they’re optimised for teaching and educational activities.
  • Smart glasses, uh, they aren’t really… ok let’s say they’re optimised for calling, taking photoes, and other stuff a phone could do too, but more portably, leaving your hands free.
  • Smartpens, they’re optimised for writing (and digitising it obviously) and recording video/audio tapes.

So, the naming has gotten a lot more confusing now. Some are smart, some are tops, some are neither, although they should be smart too.

How would these devices sound like if we named them in the “most basic yet practical thing to keep them on way? In the same order:

  • Desktops
  • Laptops
  • Fingertops
  • Palmtops
  • Wristtops
  • Walltops
  • Nosetops (I wasn’t sure to call these nosetops, eartops, eyetops, or facetops)
  • Papertops

Much better naming system, isn’t it? You can even call brains a Spinetop this way.

Why atheists can name their children as per religious texts

One of the most common questions that atheists get is “How do you name your children?“. The best response to that question is “Do you believe in Harry Potter? Can you name your child Harry?


Atheism gives you freedom. Freedom to criticse any religion honestly and frankly without being labelled a racist. Freedom to read any religious text. Not with a feeling of reverence, however, but a feeling of entertainment. I don’t mean to offend anyone – if you are convinced by a religious text that the author is really a supreme power outside this universe, or a being that manifests itself in living consciousness, then go ahead. But I am not convinced1.

Back to the topic, atheists can consider religious texts as any other book. Most religious texts can be considered as a mixture of science fiction and a recount of outdated science, law, societal ethics. If you can name your child “Rover” after the search dog in Windows XP, you can name your child “Haafiz”, “Narasimha”, or “Elijah” after religious characters just as well.

You can name your child “Harry” after the fictional character “Harry Potter” in the same way that you can name your child “Chandrashekhara” after the real person “Chandrashekhara Venkata Raman”. An atheist doesn’t consider a fictional character in the Bible, for instance, to be any different from one in any other fictional novel. Similarly, a theist doesn’t consider a character in the Bible or another religious text, to be any different (in terms of their existence) from C.V. Raman.

In short, atheists don’t have any problem with religious texts. They are free to read it, rate it, and critique it like any other piece of literary fiction. Almost every atheist agrees that religious texts are a great piece of literature. What they do have a problem with, is people who believe that Harry Potter, Russel’s teapot, or God are real without any real evidence. In the same way that a Harry Potter novel does not prove the existence of Harry Potter, the Bible, Quran, Gita, or the Vedas do not prove the existence of God. Which is why you see more atheists naming their children after religious figures than as “Richard” after Dawkins.


1 And I have my reasons to. History tells us that Christianity and Islam spun off Judaism, much in the same way that a novel may be inspired by another. History also tells us that Jesus Christ was a Jew by philosophical belief, and that the religion that is Hinduism is a recent construct based on several different philosophies, including atheistic ones. Religion is what you get if you take the evolving science, law, and ethics, cut out a cross-section at any desired time, and minimise the change.

Reservations and quotas

As more and more reservations pile up and expand, Indian meritocracy dwindles to non-existence. Our current government, which is otherwise quite capitalist and meritocratic (two essential qualities of any administration) in other respects, for Indian standards, anyway, continues to push for a “women’s reservation bill”.

For non-Indians, let me start by stating that India is a country with 49.5% reservations in public sector organisations, including educational institutions, besides defence. Some states, including the industrious state of Maharashtra have even an 87% reservation, in clear violation of a supreme court order that placed an upper limit on reservations at 50%. Reservations based on caste, religion, birthplace, and so on. Supposedly “low-caste” individuals, Muslims, Kashmiri Hindus, and so on have a much easier task of getting into a government institution. Which means the caste system is still up and kicking in India, just that the historical lower-castes are now the upper-castes, although people like to deny this fact.

And now you want to add a 33% reservation based on gender? Seriously? The prestigious Indian Institute of Science, has merely 120 undergraduate seats, and 60 are gone to reservation. Remove another 40, and you have just 20 merit seats, seats for people who don’t have the privilege of being born as a Dalit, S.C., S.T., female, Muslim, and so on.

By all means, get rid of patriarchy. But that doesn’t mean you must spit in the name of merit and switch to another shame in the name of meritocracy, matriarchy. Saying “women were exploited for so long, now the men should be exploited” is ridiculous and stupid. Few of the women who were exploited during patriarchial times will be alive in 25 years, and few of the exploiter men would be alive then too. You would be punishing the wrong people and benefitting the wrong ones too.

Oh, and even in patriarchial times (the current times are a mixture of patriarchy and matriarchy1), or times with any presence of patriarchy at all, it’s not the exploited who are benefited from reservations. The fact that you can apply for reservations itself shows that nobody is illegally discriminating you. I hope this diagram clears things up.


1 Discounts, higher FD interest rates, reserved seats in buses for women, societal expectations of men, and so on, are matriarchy, no matter what you would like to believe.