Google gives Gmail POP3 support, plans antivirus

Google will roll out POP3 (Post Office Protocol) support gradually over the coming weeks to Gmail users, who will be able to use the feature to download e-mail messages from Gmail servers to e-mail applications on devices such as PCs and wireless devices.

With POP3 support, users will be able to transfer their server-based Gmail messages to a client-side e-mail application such as Microsoft's Outlook and have the messages stored on their local hard drive and thus accessible when they are offline. Users with wireless devices that have POP3-compliant e-mail clients will also be able to download their Gmail messages to personal digital assistants or cell phones.

Google is also working on adding an antivirus scanning feature to the Web mail service, possibly by licensing an existing technology, and developing an HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) interface that would make Gmail compatible with browsers that don't support JavaScript. Currently, only JavaScript-enabled browsers can access Gmail, which uses JavaScript extensively.

These and other possible enhancements, such as adding further wireless device support through WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) or XHTML (Extensible HTML), are part of Google's attempt to eventually make Gmail, which is still being beta tested, the most feature-rich Web mail service available, a Google executive said.

"We want to make it the best e-mail service in every single dimension so you have absolutely no reason to use any other," said Georges Harik, who is in charge of new projects at Google and whose title is director of Googlettes, the term the company uses to refer to this type of effort.

While the POP3 support is an important feature to have, Gmail must gain calendaring and schedule-management features, which competitors already offer to complement Web mail services, said Teney Takahashi, an analyst at The Radicati Group. For example, Yahoo's Web mail service offers a calendaring system that integrates with various versions of Microsoft's Outlook, Takahashi said.

"Right now, Gmail is very good at managing mail but I'd like to see the service extended to other areas of your daily life: managing your schedule and possibly being able to synchronize that with your desktop client, like Outlook, would be very valuable," Takahashi said.

Google should also consider moving Gmail out of its beta-testing phase and into final release soon, so that it's generally available and not only by invitation from the company, which is the only way to get a Gmail account right now, Takahashi said. The POP3 support may signal that Google is getting close to the final-release stage, he said.

Google considers POP3 support a must-have for Gmail.

"This is a very important feature that every e-mail system should provide. We're going to make it easy both to transition into and out of Gmail so you can use the best possible e-mail reading interface," Google's Harik said.

"We're making our way down the list of things so in the end you'll be able to access Gmail on everything," he said.

While Gmail users are served up text ads that appear next to the messages' body text, ads will not appear with messages that are downloaded via POP3 to the client e-mail applications, a Google spokesman said.

Also in the works is beefed-up antivirus protection. Currently, Gmail protects users against viruses by blocking messages that have certain files attached to them, such as exe., or executable, files. But a full-fledged virus-scanning feature is on the horizon for Gmail, Harik said.

"We block executables and other things that are usually carriers of viruses so most viruses don't go through, but there are always weird file types. So we're working on getting a full antivirus scanning solution to add to the current list of things that we do. We're likely to possibly license one (from a third party)," Harik said.

Also a possibility for Gmail would be support for IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol), a protocol similar to POP3 but more sophisticated, he said.

Google will also continue to sharpen Gmail's spam blocking and filtering capabilities, which are based on technology the company develops internally, Harik said. Now, for example, Gmail detects spam messages that are phishing scams, and provides a button to report them as such to Google. "We intend to develop the best spam filter in the industry," Harik said.

These efforts show Google is taking the threat of spam and phishing very seriously, Radicati's Takahashi said. "They have been very closed about what technology they're using for antispam filtering but it seems to be very effective," he said.

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