Google plans fifth birthday present for Gmail users

The company's Web-based e-mail service, still in beta testing five years after its launch, is due for an upgrade

Google will announce the next step in Gmail's evolution, a new product with "a European multilingual angle," on Monday.

At an event in Brussels to mark Gmail's fifth birthday, Google will look at the impact of cloud computing on how people manage their daily tasks, review Gmail's evolution to date and announce the next step in its progression, the company wrote in an invitation.

"Google is celebrating with the launch of an exciting new product" said the invitation.

Gmail, a free Web-based e-mail service with the then-unheard-of storage capacity of 1GB and Google's trademark search capability, launched in 2004.

Google's playful announcement of the service, dated April 1, proclaimed "Search is Number Two Online Activity -- Email is Number One; 'Heck, Yeah,' Say Google Founders."

It looked like an April Fool's Day joke at a time when Yahoo and Microsoft were offering Web mail accounts with under 10MB of storage, with Yahoo offering an upgrade to 100MB for US$50 a year. It turned out to be true, prompting Yahoo and Microsoft to upgrade their offerings a few weeks later.

Five years after its launch, Gmail now offers over 7GB of storage but is still labelled as a beta version.

Monday's announcement is not about the end of the beta trial, though: "It has more of a European multilingual angle to it," a Google spokesman said.

Google already offers multilingual versions of the Gmail interface. Initially available only in English, it now comes in 52 language options available, including most European languages and many in non-Roman writing systems, such as Chinese, Japanese and Korean.

The company has long offered tools that will translate a Web page on the fly into a language specified by the user. It is also experimenting with a Translated Search service, still in beta, that allows surfers to make a search request in one language and receive results in another, then have those automatically translated into the first language.

The tool is particularly useful for those searching for information that is not readily available in their native language, and for which they would have difficulty formulating an appropriate search query.

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Peter Sayer

IDG News Service
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