Google Inbox Co-Founder Fixes Gmail. Again.

Posted on April 25, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud, Google with 19 Comments

It turns out I’m not the only one who hates the Gmail web interface: The co-founder of Google Inbox does too. So he’s fixing it.

“It’s like Lucky Charms got spewed all over the screen,” former Gmail leader design and Inbox co-creator Michael Leggett told Fast Company, referring to the terrible Gmail web interface. “Go look at any desktop app and tell me how many have a huge fucking logo in the top left. C’mon. It’s pure ego, pure bullshit. Drop the logo. Give me a break.”

This is the kind of guy I can relate to.

As you may recall, I was a happy and content user of Inbox, Google’s simpler and more efficient front-end to Gmail—on both web and mobile—until Google announced last year it was killing it off. I evaluated Gmail, naturally, but found it to be as terrible and complex as Microsoft Outlook is on the Windows desktop, and vowed that I would never use Gmail.

By the time Google did finally kill off Inbox earlier this month, I had already moved on. But Leggett decided to do something about Gmail: He created a Chrome extension called Simplify that makes Gmail on the web look and work more like, wait for it, Inbox.

That Leggett helped invent Inbox is important: He gets it.

“The best I could hope for is, it’s really good and Google will force people to switch to Inbox, or it’s really good and they take the best features and put into Gmail,” he says of his decision to leave Google. But while Gmail did get some of Inbox’s best features, what it didn’t get was Inbox’s minimalist user experience. Gmail is a mess or, as Leggett puts it, full of “visual noise.”

And Simplify fixes that. Beautiful.

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Comments (19)

19 responses to “Google Inbox Co-Founder Fixes Gmail. Again.”

  1. Tony Barrett

    I loved Inbox, and really miss it. I also don't like the UI layout of GMail - either the web interface or the app. I've tried the 'Simplify GMail' Chrome add-on, and it works - sort of. Still not great, but better. I'm currently trying BlueMail on Android, which is ok, but why do devs try and over-complicate things. It's just an email app - forget the other fluff that nobody wants or uses, just do the basics really well!

  2. wright_is

    I never really used the web interface for GMail, or the GMail app. I ran it through either Outlook or the Windows Mail Client.

    That said, I only ever used my GMail account for registering on sites I don't use regularly, nobody has my GMail email address, so what lands in GMail is 99% spam and 1% site activation requests.

    Private email and shopping sites I use regularly get either my private domain email or my address.

  3. franklyray

    Giving Simplify a test. 1st blush...looks like favorite INBOX of old. Thanks.

  4. stever

    I use Outlook with Exchange for my business email and Gmail for my personal account. I have used Outlook since Outlook 97 and have no issue with it. It might not be simple and the newer (2013 and newer) change a lot but have gotten accustomed and basically use shortcuts as my main tab and I love it!! Would never change to anything else. Gmail Web UI is OK. Its bit different with using Labels as folders but can live with it. Their search option works for me. Searching a word in a label is easy and works.

  5. rupertholmes

    Works for Canary Edge.

  6. truerock

    So, out of curiosity I opened up Firefox and logged into the Gmail web site.

    Full disclosure... these are corporate Gmail accounts linked to various web pages and stuff.

    Now... I know a few years ago I would go through the settings and turn off everything I could turn off to make Gmail somewhat usable. So there is that - but, every once in a while Google would do something and everything would be turned back on and Gmail would be unusable again. I just logged on the Gmail website for the first time in a couple of years - and, it was not bad... and then - oh no!! the dreaded "trimmed content" that habitually trims stuff like "please send invoice for $1,037, 233 by next week". But, this "trimmed content" was some repetitive signatures at the bottom of the email. Not so bad - but an extremely dangerous thing to do in my business. I thought I turned that off trimmed-content. Anyway... there is no way I can use email that "trims content".

    I have lots of email threads that go back over a year - and I get these: "oh, that proposal you made a year ago.. after scores of emails involving dozens of people replying in various ways to the emails, If you can start next week we will advance you the first month's fees...". Gmail was really not designed for that kind of email thread morass.


    OMG... I HATE the Gmail web interface!!!!!

    I HATE HATE HATE HATE the gMail web interface!!!!!

    In the multiple decades I have been involved with user interface design - Gmail is the one that I absolutely cannot understand. It makes Windows 8 look like it was designed by geniuses.

    I have several business Gmail accounts which I access with Microsoft Outlook. On the rare occasion when I log into Gmail on the web I am reminded at absolutely how insane it is. I have had clients miss important, critical, time-sensitive information because they were using the Gmail web interface. I have sent many notifications out to clients explaining how absolutely important it is that none of their employees use the Gmail web interface.

    Two days ago I found out a client was not being billed because one of my employees was using Gmail web interface. I once again sent out an internal memo that using Gmail web interface is grounds for employment being immediately terminated.


  7. VancouverNinja

    If a tree falls in the forest....

  8. Vladimir Carli

    they can adopt the best possible email interface on earth, but that doesn't solve the problem that google reads your mail to advertise

  9. stmorr82zw5zml

    Paul, have you tried FastMail? It’s got some things going for it that Gmail likely never will:

    • It’s fast
    • It has a minimalist UI
    • No ads or content scanning
    • It’s all they do; they’re unlikely to turn around one day and bake a social network into email
    • They’re heavily invested in developing open mail/ calendaring/ contacts standards, unlike Gmail with their odd flavour of mail transport protocols that don’t quite play nicely with other open standards
  10. jlmerrill

    So are you going to use it?

  11. wbhite

    I just tried the extension and, while I didn't take a before screenshot, immediately all I notice is the lack of the logo (which wasn't that bad) and a bunch of white space. I don't get the appeal.

    • jgraebner

      In reply to wbhite:

      Agreed. I really don't get the point of this. It doesn't seem like it does much of anything other than remove the logo.

      Admittedly, I tried Inbox and never got the appeal of it either. If anything, I thought it simplified the interface to a point where most tasks were harder rather than easier.

  12. fishnet37222

    I actually have no issues with the UI of GMail on the web. In my opinion, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

  13. jblank46

    It's really gotten bad and the gmail Android app's UI is also a mess. Conversely, the UI on Outlook on the web and on Android has improved dramatically over the last year. If only they could fix the damn search though because there is still no way to search a specific folder, it always seems to want to search just the inbox.

  14. Stooks

    No folders (not that fo tagging stuff), replies at the bottom of a email thread??? And no way to easily (I don't want to learn Gmail-FU) sort by user, subject etc...... = Gmail for me. The privacy issues of course trumps all of that.

  15. BoItmanLives

    I'll be ecstatic if Gmail could simply ever respond to the Delete button being able to delete emails the way Yahoo, Outlook and pretty much every web email interface supports.

    Or ... those a-holes are intentionally not making it easier to delete emails.

  16. janicefisk

    SaneBox is a great alternative - you can keep your inbox organized and clutter-free with very little effort. Smart algorithms learn your email habits so you only see what you need to see.