How to Stop the Gmail Desktop Turning Outgoing Emails into Links

Have you ever found yourself reading an email on your desktop, and then when you click on a link or an attachment, the email opens up in a new tab or window?

Users all over the world have been complaining about this feature for years, and today Gmail finally responded by changing the way linking works in their desktop email clients. Now when you click on a link or an attachment, it won’t open up a brand new window or tab – it will simply do what it’s supposed to do and load the requested content in the existing window or tab.

The Madness Behind the Scenes

If you ever wonder how a tiny team of engineers at Google are capable of creating such a complex piece of software as Gmail, it’s mainly due to a combination of advanced automation and clever usage of JavaScript. Those who have programmed in JavaScript will know exactly what I mean.

Automation as you know it, was not something that people envisioned when they created email. Sure, some of the earliest pioneers may have had the vision of having machines to help them check their email, reply to correspondence, etc. But for the most part, email was crafted using only the most basic of computer functions: sending and replying to messages. This was made possible by the introduction of HTML in the 90s.

HTML was originally designed to make the World Wide Web look more like a printed book – with bold text, images, and web pages constantly flowing into each other. While it initially started as a way to display websites, its versatility quickly made it popular for use in email.

With all of the different platforms, devices, and operating systems people use to access email, it’s no wonder that the developers behind Gmail had to adapt their existing linking implementation. That’s a lot of platforms to consider, and in order to keep things simple, they made a few key decisions.

The first and most significant decision was to keep things simple by defaulting to what worked best for the majority of users. So instead of creating a special feature just for those using macOS, they decided to provide the same experience on all operating systems (this certainly helps promote email cross-platform!).

Similarly, instead of forcing all users to go through an elaborate onboarding process to use a new feature, they decided to leave things how they were unless the user explicitly asks for something different. This way, even if you’re not technically inclined you’ll still be able to utilize the basics of email without much trouble.

Why the Defaults Worked

Even though the engineers at Google probably wanted to create a feature that is unparalleled in its simplicity and intuitiveness, they wisely chose to implement the defaults as they found them. Here’s why.

Since email was initially designed to be accessed via a web browser, it made sense to keep the behavior of clicking links and opening emails in new tabs the same way people are used to seeing them in their web browser. This continues to be the case even today, and most people who use Gmail on a daily basis will tell you that this is the single best feature the app has going for it.

But just because something works well by default, doesn’t mean it’s the be-all and end-all of email design. After all, it’s 2018, and the email world is a changing place. If you think back to when this feature was initially rolled out, you’ll see that it wasn’t perfect. Some people experienced an overload of emails opening in new tabs, and since then, Google has been working hard to improve the functionality and enhance the user experience.

Also keep in mind that email clients weren’t the only place people were interacting with emails back then, and having a separate browser window just to view an email isn’t ideal either. Since most email clients work independently of one another (unlike web browsers which can work within a single window), having multiple windows just to manage your email can be a pain. Having each window connected to your email allows you to easily switch between viewing and editing different emails without having to worry about switching windows – something that would be very difficult with multiple tabs.

Linked Email Means More Work For You

Let’s be honest, if you’re reading this, you’re either a) an engineer at Google working on Gmail, or b) a Gmail user who knows exactly how tedious it is to keep track of all the emails you send and receive. In this case, you’ll be relieved to know that linked email makes your life a little easier. Instead of manually creating and deleting links to ensure they stay alive, you can simply set Gmail to do this for you. In addition to keeping track of all your links, you’ll also need to remember what’s attached to each email – something that linked email solves as well.

When you send an email, you’ll need to decide whether you want a clickable link or just an image attached to the message. Since you’ll be using a similar icon for both, they’ll be easy for your readers to recognize.

Now when people click on an attached image, they will be taken to the corresponding website. This might be useful if you’re sharing a marketing graphic but would rather your readers visit a related article or purchase a particular product. In this case, an image is not quite enough – you’ll need a link as well.

Setting up a link is easy enough – just create a link to the web page you want people to visit (making sure you’ve got the correct permissions and that it’s mobile-friendly), copy and paste the link into your email, and send it off. Once the email has been received and opened by the recipient, the link will become live – meaning it will work when people click on it in their browser.

What’s Next?

With this initial change to the way linking works in Gmail, the engineers at Google have now opened up the door for more features and improvements. If you’ve got an idea for a new feature or enhancement, please don’t hesitate to file a new ticket with us – with over 600 employees working on Gmail, the platform is absolutely capable of handling a lot of requests.

In the meantime, don’t worry about remembering to manually create and delete links – that’s what notifications are for. Or if you’re really having trouble remembering, just set up auto-notification for a specific link and let the machine do the remembering for you.

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