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Make Mail and Gmail play nice

David Chartier | April 18, 2013
Apple's Mail is better than ever at helping you manage your email. Google's Web-based Gmail is pretty good in its own right, but how do you combine the two? David Chartier shares his method.

As of the Mountain Lion version, Apple's Mail is better than ever at helping you manage your email. And Google's Web-based Gmail is also pretty good--but how do you combine the two in just the right way so as to get the best of both?

The answer is simple--follow my guide below, wherein I describe my favorite way to balance a few features and compromises to make Mail and OS X work best with the Gmail Way.

Step 1: Enable IMAP

The first step to getting OS X's Mail to work well with Gmail is to enable IMAP access. This will not only let Mail check your Gmail messages, but also keep everything in sync between your devices and the Web.

Log in to Gmail in a desktop Web browser, and click the gear icon on the right of the page, just below your Google Account avatar. In the menu that appears, choose Settings. Click the Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab. About halfway down the page in the IMAP Access section, select Enable IMAP. Click Save at the bottom of the page.

Enable IMAP so you'll be able to see mail across all your devices.

Step 2: Tweak labels in Gmail

When you use Gmail on the Web, you can take advantage of a few unique features that traditional email clients like Mail don't support. The biggest example: Gmail labels. Instead of filing messages into single folders, as Mail and most other clients do, Gmail lets you tag email messages with multiple words, or labels, just as you can with photos on Flickr.

A few tweaks to Gmail's Labels settings will help messages appear correctly on your different devices.

To ensure a smooth multidevice ride, stay in Gmail's settings and click the Labels tab. Here, you make labels invisible to apps that can't deal with them, such as Mail on your Mac, iPhone, or iPad. Two such labels are "Chats" and "Important," so in the Labels tab, ensure that the Show in IMAP checkbox is disabled for them. However, unlike previous advice, make sure All Mail is enabled.

One note: With All Mail enabled, Mail will keep multiple copies of your labeled messages. Mail now hides the copies, so you won't be bothered by them, but the copies do take up disk space. It's a compromise, to be sure, made to adapt Mail to the way Gmail works. But I think the compromise is worthwhile.

Step 3: Add your Google account to OS X

Before OS X Lion, when you wanted to add your Gmail account, you'd do so in the Mail app by selecting Mail > Preferences > Accounts. You can still do that if you want, but OS X now understands more about your Google Account--that it includes not only Gmail but also other services. So I recommend instead opening System Preferences and selecting Mail, Contacts, & Calendars. (Yep, this deja vu is brought to you by iOS.)


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