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How to Hack Wifi (and how to avoid being hacked): WEP/WPA/WPA2 (IMP.)

How to Hack Wifi (and how to avoid being hacked): WEP/WPA/WPA2
This guide is meant to show how easy it is to hack wireless networks if the proper security measures are not in place. First I will show how to hack a WEP or WPA/WPA2 Network and then I will give tips on how to avoid getting hacked.

This is important information in our techno-savy culture. If your wireless network is compromised you can be liable for any illegal activity on it. There are numerous stories of child pornographers and black-hat hackers using other peoples wireless networks.

NOTE: Hacking your neighbors or anyone else’s Wifi without their permission is ILLEGAL. Be smart!

Step 1What you Need

What you Need

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-A Computer. (A Laptop works best)-A Wireless Card capable of packet injection.
-If your laptop wireless card can’t do packet injection you can purchase a wireless adapter such as the Netgear WG111 v2 for around $8-$12 on eBay.

-A Live installation of BackTrack either on a CD or USB stick.
-BackTrack 5 Can be found Here
-Create a Live USB Install Here

Step 2Hack WEP

Hack WEP
WEP is the predecessor of WPA and has been hacked for the past 5+ years yet people continue to use it. With the instructions below we can crack WEP in under 15 minutes.You can crack WEP from the command line but there is an easy GUI interface in backtrack which makes it a much less painful experience for those who are scared of command prompts.

1. Boot into BackTrack

2. Click on the Backtrack applications menu -> Backtrack -> Exploitation tools -> Wireless exploitation -> WLAN Exploitation -> gerix-wifi-cracker-ng (This will open up the GUI interface seen in the picture).

3. Go to the configuration menu and select the wireless interface wlan0
-Click on Enable/Disable Monitor Mode (this will put the wireless card into monitor mode).
-Select the newly created mon0 interface.

4. Now click on the WEP tab at the top of the window.
-Click on “Start sniffing and logging” and leave the terminal open.
-Once the wireless network you want to crack* shows up (it has to be WEP encryption of course) select the WEP Attacks (with clients). *note that the PWR has to be high enough to work so the closer you can get, the better.
-There you click on “Associate with AP using fake auth”, wait a few seconds and click on “ARP request replay”.

5. Once the Data number reaches over 10,000 you are ready to try (if the data is coming fast wait until 20 or 30,000 to be safe) and crack the key, but don’t close any windows yet.
-Go to the cracking tab and click on “Aircrack-ng – Decrypt WEP password” under Wep Cracking.

It will take a few seconds to minutes to crack the password and then you are good to go.

Step 3Hack WPA/WPA2

Hack WPA/WPA2

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At least WPA and WPA2 are safe right? Wrong. WPA and WPA2 are both crackable but the time it takes to crack depends on the strength of their password.-Boot into BackTrack
-Open up Konsole which is a command line utility built into BackTrack. It is the Black Box in the Lower-Left Hand Corner (See Image).
We will now be entering the following commands into the command line noted by Bold as well as explanations as to what they do:

-The following commands stop the wireless interface so you can change your mac address, this is important because your mac address is a unique identifier so faking one is a good idea if you are accessing a network you don’t have permission to. (which by the way I wholly condemn)

1:
airmon-ng stop wlan0
ifconfig wlan0 down
macchanger –mac 00:11:22:33:44:55 wlan0
airmon-ng start wlan0

2:
-Now we will put the airodump-ng tool into monitor mode, this will allow us to see all of the wireless networks around us (See the first Picture).

airodump-ng mon0

Now choose the network you want to hack and take note of the BSSID, and the Channel it is one as well as the ESSID. The PWR has to be fairly high to be able to hack it, this is determined by how close you are to the wireless router. The closer you are, the better.

Once you have chosen the wireless network enter the following into the terminal:
This will write capture packets and put them into the “filename” file, we are trying to capture the handshake between the router and wireless connection which will give us the key we need to crack.

3:
airodump-ng mon0 –channel * –bssid **:**:**:**:**:** -w filename

The following step is optional but is highly recommended as it will speed up the process a great deal.

Once “WPA handshake: **:**:**:**:**:**” appears in the top right-hand corner we can move on. If you are having trouble getting the WPA handshake to occur then do step 4.

4:
aireplay-ng -0 1 -a **:**:**:**:**:** -c **:**:**:**:**:** mon0

What this step (4) does is it deauthorizes a wireless connection and trie to re-establish it so it will generate a new handshake to capture. This step ends once you have captured the handshake.

5:
aircrack-ng –w wordlist.lst -b **:**:**:**:**:** filename.cap

Step 5 is now trying to crack the password in “filename.cap” using a list of words, here called “wordlist.lst” you can download a good 200 million word dictionary here (128MB but unzipped is 800MB).

Your computer has to compute the hash value of every password in that list but a computer can go through those 200 million passwords in 6-12 hours.

6.

If the password isn’t found in the dictionary you can try and brute-force the password with this command: (Note this could take a very long time depending on their password strength).

/pentest/password/jtr/john –stdout –incremental:all | aircrack-ng -b **:**:**:**:**:** -w – filename.cap

Step 4Secure Your Own Wireless Network

Secure Your Own Wireless Network

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Hopefully you gained some insight into how to not get your own wireless connection hacked:1. Use WPA2 (WPA2-AES) if available and by all means never use WEP.
2. Don’t base your password on a dictionary word. The next section focuses on passwords in general.
3. In your router settings you can usually hide your ESSID (the name of the wireless network) this will add a small layer of security.
4. In your router there is probably a mac-address filtering service where you can specify the mac addresses that are allowed to connect. This will make sure that only your approved devices can connect to your network. (obviously a problem though if you have a guest over and wants to connect to your Wifi).

Step 5Passwords

Passwords
You have to have good passwords in this day and age. If not your credit card information, your personal information and identity are available to those who want to use it and abuse it. Here are some guidelines to coming up with a secure password:1. At least 8 characters.
2. At least one number, letter and special character ie: $ # % ^ @ !
3. NOT based on a dictionary word
4. Multiple transitions: ie: aaa111aaa111 not aaaa11111.

How can I remember these passwords?

Come up with a word such as: calculus and substitute numbers and other characters for letters ie: c@1cu1u$
This is still based on a dictionary word though so you should still make it harder such as appending something to the end or beginning.

I also highly recommend using a different password for every website, how can you do this easily? Remember random variables in algebra? Have a random variable in your password that is based on the website or some other information.

IE: XpasswordY where the first X is the last letter of the website name and the last Y is the first letter of the website name:

So the Instructables website password would be SpasswordI or your Facebook password would be KpasswordF and your Hotmail password will be LpasswordH.

It might seem like a lot but it’s worth the time to prevent the potential theft of your money, identity and your life ruined.

Hachiko: The World’s Most Loyal Dog

Hachiko

Hachiko was brought to Tokyo in 1924 by his owner, a college professor named Hidesamuro Ueno. Each day, when Ueno left for work, Hachiko would stand by the door to watch him go. When the professor came home at 4 o’clock, Hachiko would go to the Shibuya Station to meet him.

Though this simple act alone shows a tremendous amount of loyalty, that’s not the end of it: The following year, Ueno died of a stroke while at the university. Hachiko didn’t realize that he was gone, and so the dog returned to the train station every single day to await his master. He became such a familiar presence there, in fact, that the station master set out food for the dog and gave him a bed in the station. Even so, Hachiko never shifted loyalties –every day at 4 o’clock, he hopefully waited by the tracks as the train pulled in, searching for his best friend’s face among the people getting off.

Hachiko’s love for his master impressed many people who passed through the station, including one of Ueno’s former students, who became fascinated by the Akita breed after seeing Hachiko. He discovered that there were only 30 Akitas living in Japan, and began to write articles about Hachiko and his remarkable breed, turning the world’s most loyal dog into a household name, and creating a resurgence in popularity for the Akita.

Hachiko died in 1935, after 10 long years of waiting for his master. But the dog would not be forgotten –a year before his death, Shibuya Station installed a bronze statue of the aging dog, to honor its mascot. Though the statue was melted down during World War II, a new version was created in 1948 by the son of the original artist. Go to the station now, and you’ll be able to see the bronze statue of Hachiko – still waiting, as ever, for his master to come home.

Want to learn more about Hachiko and the amazing Akita breed? Watch Hachi, the movie based on his story  (co-starring Richard Gere), or check out these great books:

Dog Man: An Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain,  by Martha Sherrill

Hachiko Waits,  by Leslea Newman

12 Gmail that you should know and will help you

TIP #1: Create Unlimited Email ‘Aliases’ with One Gmail Account

If you want to keep track of how your email address is used (ie, when you sign up to a newsletter), add “.” (period only) anywhere in your username. This way you’ll create a new ‘alias’‘ email address and all the messages sent to that new ‘alias‘ address will get forwarded to your primary Gmail address.

So, for example, if your Gmail address is username@gmail.com then you can make variations like:

u.sername@gmail.com (remember, you just change the username, not @gmail.com)

user.name@gmail.com

usernam.e@gmail.com

Any email sent to the above ‘alias ‘ email addresses will go straight to username@gmail.com. Why is this useful? If you use this trick when you sign up to different newsletters and you start receiving spam, you’ll know which newsletter sold your email address to spammers.

The trick we just showed you is a good one. But it is a little difficult for tracking multiple sources of emails that you sign up for. My favorite for easily identified sources is to use “+someword” after your username. You’ll get the same result as above and be able to instantly recognize where the email was entered.

So, when signing up for email updates, newsletters or anywhere you enter your Gmail address, simply add “+someword” after your username.

For CNNusername+cnn@gmail.com

And for the New York Timesusername+newyorktimes@gmail.com

Keep goin’:
username+squidoo@gmail.com
username+twitter@gmail.com
username+googlealerts@gmail.com
And on and on and on…

You can also use a combination of the above 2 tricks. You can build:user.name+twitter@gmail.com

All emails sent to the above addresses will get forwarded to username@gmail.com.

Read on intrepid netters, with the next few Tips we’ll teach you how to make custom labels and apply simple filters to automatically sort these emails as they arrive to your Gmail Inbox.

TIP #2: How to Organize Gmail by Creating Custom Labels

Easy access is the name of the game here. Google Gmail has extra Labels ready to go; Personal, Work, Travel, Receipts and more. No more grinding through a multitude of emails for a flight confirmation number or an appointment time. Just jump to your Travel label then your Work label and grab your info!

You can carry this one step further by creating your own custom Labels. Set up multiple Labels to organize virtually all incoming mail. You are only limited by your imagination: Labels can be made for family, friends, newsletters or just about any kind of email you recieve.

Here how to create Labels in Google Gmail using the illustration below for reference. Look below the Inboxes on the left-hand side of your Gmail window. Below it you will see a link like the one below that reads ‘5 more‘. Click on that link and a menu will drop down. Click on the link near the bottom that says ‘Create new label‘. A window will pop up and you enter the name for your Label and click OK. Done deal!! Now create as many as you need to keep your emails seperate and easy to find.

How can we organize our Labels in Gmail? Easily done. You can drag ‘n’ drop every Label seen in Gmail except for the primary Inbox. Core Labels like Drafts, Sent Mail are the only Labels allowed directly below the Inbox but can be dragged into the “5 More” to get them out of sight. All other can be dragged around to give you the most workable look.

Adding the custom color ‘Chicklets’ to the extra or secondary Labels that Google provides or you create is a breeze. Just move your cursor to the left of any Label and click on the drop down arrow that will appear. Choose a color and click on it and you are done. Notice that below the color choices you will find a list of actions that can be applied to the Labels. The entire list of Labels can also be easily accessed and manipulated any way you desire by clicking on the Manage Labels link which is found directly above the Create New Label link. Try it.

Gmail labels & Chicklets

Now that you know how to use Gmail Labels and accessorize them let’s jump to the next tip where we’ll show you how to automatically filter (sort) emails into the Labels you’ve just created.

TIP #3: How To Set Up and Use Filters in Gmail

Using filters in Gmail can be one of those things that can be conceptually difficult to understand at first. That is, until you do it. Then it’s like a switch was turned on and you can go nuts with it!

The first filter we will apply will be to sort emails from a given email address and we will use the standard emails that the Gmail Team sends out to every user for our example because we have several emails from them in our Inbox. You can use any email address you want but for this example it is more helpful if you choose an email address from which you have multiple emails in the Inbox.

Open an email and look in the upper right corner of the email you will see a drop down arrow to the right of “Reply“. Click the arrow and take note of the actions that can be applied to the email for future reference. In our example we will are using filters so we click on “Filter messages like this“.

Gmail Filters

When we do this we get a Filter window above the email we are using as seen below. The email address of the sender is already entered into the “From” filter data field. Cool beans!

Just click the “Test Search” Tab and all emails from that sender should be in the window below. What to do with all those emails now? Click on “Next Step” and let’s find out.

Now if you have already created Labels when following TIP #1 you are ahead of the game. If not, no worries. In fact, it is just as easy to do while filtering and email.

After clicking on the “Next Step” tab we see the window for creating a filter. You can again see several actions you could apply to the filter.  But we need to label a file to put the emails into so some small part of our lives are organized ;-)

Now we want to check the box next to “Apply the label” and then click on the drop down arrow next to the box showing “Choose label“. A menu will drop down and you can choose a label you have already made or click on “New label” to create another.

Now go to the bottom right portion of that window and check the box to “Also apply filter to “X” conversations below” if you want those included under the new label as well. Now click “Create Filter” and Gmail will take you to a page in Settings which will display all your filters and allow you to edit or delete them.

Remember that you are free to filter any number of email addresses to one label. For instance you could create the label “Newsletters” and then filter all those newsletters you subscribe to by putting their email addresses through a filter and sending them to that Label.

Don’t forget the Chicklets!!!

Now since you are all pros at this we will apply filters to emails sent to our “alias” email addresses. Remember TIP #1 where we created the alternate email addresses for us that would all come to our primary Gmail address? Now we are going to put that to use.

Let’s use my Twitter email contact address. When I signed up I entered “username+Twitter@gmail.com“. Now I’ve received an email from Twitter telling me that I have one million followers!! (In my dreams)

Open the email and click on show details. That will show me the header with the To and From email addresses.  Seeing the header will confirm which ‘alias’ address I used.  Got that?

Now we will follow the same steps as we did in the above example but will enter my “alias” email address in the To: data field.  Continue on as we did before and all Twitter emails will go into the Twitter Label. Easy Pie!

Look at the other data fields in the Create a Filter window. You can also filter by Subject, whether the subject has certain words or whether it doesn’t have certain words. These can be great for spam emails that you get over and over. Make a Filter with those subjects or words. Remember that when you click on Next Step you can choose to apply actions to filters such as delete.

TIP #4: Backup Gmail Messages (in the simplest way possible)

For most people it is a good idea to keep a backup of your inbox and not your ‘sent’ messages. Well, the quick and automatic way is to set up Gmail to forward messages (do it to another email service, like Yahoo or Hotmail).

How do you do this? Go to Settings (top right corner of Gmail window), click on Forwarding and POP/IMAP and then select Forward a copy of incoming mail to. Enter an email address there.

TIP #5: Change “From” Name and “Reply to:” Address

The first one, you might want to do it for privacy reasons. The second one, maybe you send a lot of emails to a lot of people and need another email address to easily manage their responses.

Here’s how to change the “From” name:

Settings (top right corner) > Accounts and Imports > Save Mail As and then click on “Edit info“. The following screen will appear:

See this tutorial on how to change the ‘reply to‘ address.

TIP #6: Set Up Gmail to Show Headers

Now you can see the IP address of the sender and track down those spammers and scammers!!

Here’s a way to do it:

When you click on Show original what you are basically seeing is the address code that computers use to route the mail as well as other tools for analysis. If you don’t understand what those headers mean, here is a good header analysis tool.

Copy everything above the message body in your email and paste it into the box at the top left of the Email Header Analyzer at MX Toolbox.com and click on Analyze Header. This information is helpful when you receive questionable emails and would like to block them in the future.  See your IT guru or the authorities if it’s serious.

TIP #7: Email Security Check!!

Think someone else is accessing your Gmail account? Check the ‘Sign in‘ history in Gmail.
This little trick will let you know if someone has grabbed your password and is peeking into your Inbox.

Here’s how to do it:

At the bottom of any screen in Gmail you’ll see “Last account activity“.

Click on “Details” and there you’ll see a list of the last 10 IP addresses that logged in on your Gmail account and their location (ie., United States (Texas)(IP Address)) and the time and date. These should be the same set of IP numbers if you are using only one device to access your Gmail account.

If you are seeing different IP Addresses and locations logging on to your account it may be that you are logged in at a home computer to Gmail while you are at work.  Also look at the Access Type column and see if the account is being accessed by a mobile device or POP3 when you don’t use those.

Be more concerned if you are seeing locations that are accessing your account that are a great distance from your normal location and especially if that location is from another country.

If you are concerned, click on the button at the top of the window labeled Sign out all other sessions. The current computer you are using will become the only one logged on. At the bottom of the window there is an Alert you can set up that will notify only you if there is unusual activity on the account.

But remember, the best protection you can take is to use a complex password comprised of upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters.

TIP #8: Hate organizing? Keep It Simple with a Star!

You can ‘Star‘ any message in Gmail and it goes to a special folder labeled, of all things, “Starred“. This is, by default, under “inbox“. You can do this for very important messages you think you’ll need in the future. It can also be given to an email that was filtered and sorted into a label as we looked at earlier. It will be contained in both locations.

TIP #9: Activate Keyboard Shortcuts

This is great for Advanced users or those that just aspire to save time and needless keystrokes.
To activate them, go to Settings > General and look for “Keyboard shortcuts:”

Here’s a useful list of Gmail keyboard shortcuts.

TIP #10: Use the Mail Search Options

You can search emails from a specific domain by entering “From:domainname.com” and clicking “Search mail.” You can also search emails from a specific sender by entering “From:sender@domain.com“. Just jump up to the search field above the Gmail window.

I’ve included an example below:

You can also do more advance searches on your emails by clicking on “Show search options” next to the Search buttons at the top of the Gmail window.

TIP #11: Use Gmail to Manage Your Domain Emails

If you have your own domain (like me) you can set up the email address you own on that domain so it is sent to Gmail.

Take a look at Google Apps where you can find out more about this feature.

TIP #12: Gmail Labs for the Adventurous

Want to send SMS with Gmail Chat, use canned responses or set up custom ‘vacation time’ autoresponder? Gmail Labs is for you! A wide variety of apps that are easily enabled. They are also easily disabled, which is good because Google openly states the these apps are ‘Not ready for Prime Time’.

I could write a tip about each one of the things above (and they’re a small part of Gmail labs.) To take a look at the entire list of tools, go to Settings (top right corner of Gmail window) > and click on the “Labs” tab.

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Why should we recycle? spread awareness lead to a better life my friends!

COMMENTING TAKES ONLY A FEW SECONDS AND HELPS ME TO MAKE BETTER POSTS BY READING YOUR REVIEWS!

 

Recycling has numerous environmental benefits. Recycling saves energy, conserves natural resources, limits pollution, and supports several sectors of the economy.

Here are some important statistics from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other resource industry groups that will explain each of these benefits of recycling in greater detail. As you’re reading, think how this could positively affect where you live and our environment.

Save Energy
•In 2003, the energy savings from recycling 54 billion aluminum cans exceeded the energy equivalent of 15 million barrels of crude oil – or the amount of gas the U.S. uses in one day.
•Another way to look at it: recycling 1 can = 3 hours of TV, so in 2003 the U.S. saved enough energy by recycling cans to run 162 billion hours of TV, or about 25 hours of TV for every man, woman and child on Earth.
•The Center for Ecological Technology found that the glass industry uses 50% less energy to create glass from recycled glass than from raw materials.
•Americans recycled about 40 million tons of paper products in 2003, creating an energy savings of 163 trillion (yes, with a “T”!) kilowatt hours of electricity.
•Recycling one pound of plastic soda bottles – or PET plastic – saves 1200 BTUs of energy (1 BTU is the amount of energy needed to raise a gallon of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit).
•2005 saw the U.S. recycle 5 billion pounds of PET plastic, which equals a savings of 60 trillion BTUs of energy.

Conserve Natural Resources
•Americans disposed of 83 million tons of paper products in 2003. According to the EPA, by recycling nearly half of that, we saved 705 million trees and 290 billion gallons of fresh water.
•4% of U.S. annual oil consumption, or roughly 219 million barrels of oil, goes into the manufacture of plastic. Thus increasing the amount of plastic we recycle can make a significant impact on oil use.
•In 1997, the U.S. recycled 13 million cars, which conserved 32.5 billion pounds of iron ore, 18.2 billion pounds of coal and 1.5 billion pounds of limestone.
•Aluminum can be recycled forever. Over 2/3 of all aluminum ever created is still in use. Most of the 1/3 not still in use is aluminum cans in landfills.

Limit Pollution

•Recycling just half of your annual recyclable household waste saves 2400 pounds of CO2 being released into the atmosphere. Many scientists contend that human-released CO2 is a leading cause of global warming.
•Recycling household and car batteries keeps heavy metals such as mercury, lithium and cadmium from being released into our air and water. Heavy metals, when consumed by people and other animals, cause numerous health problems and diseases.
•The EPA estimates that 200 million gallons of used motor oil are improperly disposed of each year. Recycling used motor oil keeps it from polluting your ground and fresh water.
•Americans dispose of 270 million waste tires each year. Illegally-dumped and stock-piled tires are fertile breeding grounds for rodents and mosquitoes, and illegally-burned tires release oil and soot into the air and ground water.

Stimulate the Economy
•Recycling creates a net gain in jobs – 5 to 1 over landfill management.
•Jobs created by recycling cover a wide variety of skill sets, including basic labor, manufacturing, entrepreneurship, advanced science and engineering.
•Recycling creates new “green” technologies designed to take advantage of the reclaimed resources.
•The National Recycling Coalition reports that recycling has created 1.1 million jobs, $236 billion in gross annual sales, and $37 billion in annual payroll.

Be a Patriot
Politicians and pundits from both the Left and the Right strongly agree that we should decrease our dependence on foreign oil. As you can see from the points above, recycling makes you a true patriot who’s doing something to make the people and economy of our great nation cleaner, healthier, richer and stronger!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Green Facts
-Creating a new aluminum can from scratch takes 95% more energy than making a can from recycled aluminum.
-Making a ton of paper from recycled stock saves up to 17 trees and uses 50% less water than making paper from virgin fiber.
-Only 10% of the energy used by an incandescent bulb produces light; the rest is given off as heat.
-If every household in the United States replaced just one package of virgin fiber napkins with 100% recycled ones, we could save 1 million trees.
-In the average home, 40% of all electricity used to power home electronics is consumed while the products are turned off. Across the US, this equals the annual output of 17 power plants.
-If you replace just one out of four of your light bulbs with fluorescents, you can save about 50% on your lighting bill.
-A leaky faucet can waste up to 20 gallons of water per day, and a leaking toilet can waste up to 200 gallons a day.
-Swapping 16 incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) saves emissions equivalent to taking a car off the road for a year.
-Almost 40% of America’s waste is paper and could be recycled, meaning fewer trees cut down.
-A standard-sized home solar energy system decreases monthly home energy bills by 40%-60%.
-If every American replaced just one light bulb with an Energy Star compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL), the energy saved could light more than 2.5 million homes for a year.
-A family of four using low-flow showerheads instead of full-flow models can save about 20,000 gallons of water per year.

Resources:
www.aceee.org
www.cetonline.org
www.epa.gov
www.nrc-recycle.org
www.nrdc.org

The new Gmail interface review

Google Gmail

When it arrived as a beta service in 2004, Gmail revolutionized webmail by adding markedly faster operation, aggressive spam reduction, vastly increased mail storage space, and a controversial conversation view. Since its long beta period ended in 2009, Gmail has become the webmail of choice among the tech cognoscenti. But it’s less well-known that other webmail services like the recently updated Hotmail (Free, 4.5 stars) and Yahoo Mail(Free, 4.0 stars) have bounced back to equal or exceed Gmail’s innovations. Now Gmail responds with some interface enhancements of its own. Are they enough to combat the increased competition?

Signup and Setup
Signing up for a Gmail account opens you up to a world of other Google services as well as e-mail—Picasa online photo albums, Blogger blogs, Docs for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, and YouTube video sharing, and now the Google+ Facebook clone. Other sites, too, often allow you to sign in with your Google account, via its OpenID support (a capability shared by Yahoo and AIM Mail but not Hotmail).

Conversation View
Themes
New Gear Menu Options
Allow Offline Mail
More

After the single-page signup, a Congratulations page shows the service’s features, and then you can take a first look at your new inbox. If you keep the default “Stay signed in” checkbox checked, once you sign up and log in, every time you go to gmail.com, your inbox will load quickly, with a progress bar showing as it loads. One option that’s also checked by default may be a privacy concern to some—”Enable Web History.” This keeps a record on Google servers of any Web browsing you’ve done for 180 days.

Interface
Gmail’s interface has long had all the charm of a spreadsheet—lots of text, lines, and links. There are no tabs like you find in Yahoo Mail to help organize replies, searches, and more. There’s also no preview panel, such as you find in the new Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, and AIM Mail. Clicking on an e-mail entry in Gmail means your inbox view disappears, and some of us like to have that list in view while skimming through e-mails. Just finding the Forward button in Gmail can be a scavenger hunt, and the thin ribbon indicating there’s another message in the conversation pales next to Hotmail’s clear implementation of conversation view.

But with a recent release (November 2011), Google has made some efforts towards clearing up this interface miasma. Conversation view in particular, is much easier on the eyes. The view now shows participants’ user pictures, which helps identity contributions. Interface fonts resize as you resize the browser window, letting you choose among “comfortable,” “cozy,” and “compact.” The last brings Gmail to a new level of eyestrain, but “comfortable” is a definite improvement over the earlier Gmail interface. If you don’t choose any of these explicitly, Gmail will resize based on your window size.

As with all webmail clients, a panel on the left gives you folder choices, as well as Contacts, Tasks, and Chat. Note Buzz is going the way of the Passenger Pigeon, in favor of Google Plus, Google’s latest of many attempts at social networking. New minimalist buttons above the inbox elucidated by hover-over tooltips let you Archive, Report spam, Delete, Move, and Label e-mails. Clicking a star in a narrow column in the inbox can make important missives easier to locate. The same can be said for Labels. These are Gmail’s newfangled take on what all other e-mail clients simply call “Folders.” When you create a new Label, it gets an entry in the left panel, just like a folder. You can choose a color square icon for a Label, but there’s no equivalent to Hotmail’s subfolders.

One feature I like in Gmail is how quickly new e-mails pop up to the top of the inbox, without the need to refresh the page. While the other webmail services do this now, too, Gmail is the snappiest. Another plus is that Gmail doesn’t have display ads—though its text ads are inescapable.

Gmail can play YouTube videos in the inbox, but lacks some of Hotmail and Yahoo Mail’s niftier inbox features, such as the ability to show photo slideshows and video from other sites like DailyMotion. Gmail also lacks Hotmail’s Active Views that show you updates from Facebook and other social networks and even let you reply without launching the site. Hotmail can also automatically filter the inbox to show only e-mails containing social updates, documents, photos, or shipping notices.

As with Hotmail and Yahoo Mail, you can pretty up the interface somewhat with themes. There are 35 themes to choose from, some of them quite lovely, like Summer Ocean, Candy, and Phantasea. Alternatively you can create your own with custom colors. Some themes change to reflect the time of day, as Hotmail’s Dynamic themes do. New “HD” themes such as Wood, Mountains, and Planets look great even on large monitors.

Offline Google Mail
Recently, Google released a version of Gmail that only runs in its own Chrome browser. Based on the tablet version of Gmail used on iPads and Android tablets, Offline Google Mail uses HTML5 storage to allow reading and composing emails while your computer isn’t connected to the Internet. Other Web email services and Gmail itself can take advantage of installed email software like Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird, or Apple Mail, or Windows Live Mail for working with email offline, but Google has a pressing need for a browser-based offline client—Chrome OS.

Computers running Google’s operating system can’t install software in the traditional sense, but only as browser-based apps. So before this Offline Google Mail Web app, there was no way for a user of a Chrome OS computer to work with email while away from Internet connectivity. Previously, Google offered its Gears runtime for offline use of its Web apps like Gmail, Docs, and Calendar, which worked in most popular browsers. But Google ditched Gears in favor of using HTML5 Web storage. Though HTML5 storage is supported by all major browser, Offline Google Mail only works in Chrome.

Offline Google Mail’s interface is nearly identical to that of the Gmail tablet and iPad app. It actually bests the standard Gmail site in at least one way—it offers email preview. Message headers appear listed in a left panel, with the contents of the selected message displayed in the main central area. Composing emails in this interface is extremely bare bones—no formatting, signatures, or importance tags are supported—but it does allow attachments. My tests with the offline client showed it to work as advertised, checking for outbox items to send as soon as Internet connectivity was reestablished.

Using Gmail
Right after you create a Gmail account, you’ll get an e-mail from Google urging you to import your old e-mail accounts. You can import not only contacts, but actually read e-mail from other accounts like Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, and AIM Mail. The import can take hours or even days. When you reply from an imported account, the recipient will by default see the same e-mail address that they originally used to contact you, but you can change this in the From box’s dropdown list.

Your contacts from the external account will also now drop down when you start entering an address in a mail you’re composing. Interestingly, when I added a Hotmail account, another Gmail account that I’d hooked up to that now appeared in the new Gmail account. All the major services offer this type of mail forwarding, but in AIM Mail, Gmail, and Hotmail it’s easier than in Yahoo Mail.

When it comes to file attachments, Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, and AIM all share the 25MB limit, but only Hotmail offers a built-in solution to go far beyond this limit—up to 10GB in a free account—using its integrated SkyDrive online storage. When I tried attaching a 25MB video file Gmail simply displayed an error message, while Hotmail offered to let me upload the video to SkyDrive and include a link for the email recipient. Yahoo Mail allows “apps” or Web add-ins that offer a similar service to SkyDrive.

One of Gmail’s comparative strengths is its ability to let you view account e-mail in other readers, including installed e-mail readers like Mozilla Thunderbird or Windows Live Mail. Gmail goes beyond Hotmail in offering the superior IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol). Yahoo Mail makes you pay $20 for a Plus account to get any outside access.

Like the rest of Gmail, the Contacts feature is fairly bare-bones. You can, however, use it to add groups, import and export lists, and filter to view just your most frequently contacted contacts. You can use a picture for a contact’s card from your Picasa Web Albums (Free, 4.5 stars) or a Web address in addition to simply uploading a picture from your computer. Like Yahoo, Gmail offers a tool for merging duplicate contacts, which worked well.

Gmail offers good integration with the well-designed Google Calendar: I found it easy to create an event from e-mail. The event could be repeated, and a “Find a time” features lets you work around contact’s schedules for a mutually available time. Reminders, guest invitations, and an agenda view further bolster the calendar’s usefulness, but Hotmail offers all this, along with an attractive color-coded multi-calendar design.

Conversation View
Themes
New Gear Menu Options
Allow Offline Mail
More

Gmail’s Archive feature offers a quick way to bury an e-mail without actually deleting it. It also makes a convenient target for filtering mail. To view archived mail, you click the All Mail label, which is usually collapsed beneath a “more” arrow on the left panel.

Spam
In my testing of Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo Mail, the Gmail inbox was the cleanest from spam, but I did find an e-mail in the Spam folder that I wanted, an account I’d signed up for with Yamaha. In a Google Apps Gmail account, I found several wanted emails from press contacts in the spam folder. Yahoo had by far the most spam in the inbox, though I’d used that account longer than the others. There’s always a trade-off between not wanting to see spam in the inbox and not losing good messages. For business users, I’d argue, it can be more harmful to miss an email you need to respond to.

Gmail doesn’t offer tools to deal with “bacon”—e-mails that aren’t totally spam, but definitely not priority, such as newsletters and marketing e-mails that tend to accumulate. Hotmail has its Sweep feature to deal with these, and Yahoo Mail has an add-in app available, Other Inbox, that handles this problem.

Gmail does offer Priority Inbox, which serves a function similar to Yahoo and Hotmail’s “from contacts” view on their welcome pages. And you could set up Filters, which is pretty easy and effective. The latest update of Gmail even lets you create filter actions directly from the advanced search box. Gmail’s Mute option is good for those unending discussions you’re not interested in, but it’s for muting conversations rather than all mail from a specific source.

Sharing
While Hotmail offers social connections with Facebook and many other services (LinkedIn, Pandora, Flickr, StumbleUpon, just to name a few) are deep and rich, my Gmail account still only offers the moribund Buzz option in the left sidebar. No doubt this will be replaced by Google Plus one day. While Buzz could accept feeds piped in from Twitter, but little else, Hotmail’s welcome page can show updates from this cornucopia of services. Fortunately, as with Gmail’s conversations, there’s an option to mute individual Buzz posts or all of a user’s posts.

Extras
Not only can you video chat with people who have installed the Google Talk plug-in or separate app, but you can even call telephones from it. This requires installing voice and video chat plug-in. You can also hook up your AIM contacts for chatting from the Gmail page—something that should appeal to users of that pervasive IM (instant message) service. Hotmail users can obviously chat with Windows Live/MSN Messenger and with Yahoo IM users, but Gmail doesn’t offer those. The chat box can be popped out into its own window, but it’s not tabbed the way Hotmail and Yahoo’s are.

Gmail is one of the better choices when it comes to reading an e-mail account in an alternative mail app. In fact, it’s the only one of the big providers that offers IMAP access at no extra cost, which is better than the POP3 access you get free from Hotmail and at a cost from Yahoo.

It’s Fast and Clean, But Is it For You?
If speed and lack of spam are your top priorities, you should definitely look into Gmail. You do lose out features like tabs, a preview panel (unless you use the bare-bones Offline Google Mail), media viewers, and connections to popular social networks. As someone who spends a good portion of the day looking at an e-mail inbox, I much prefer an interface like Hotmail’s or Yahoo Mail’s, though Gmail is getting better. But it’s still the case that our Editors’ Choice, Windows Live Hotmail, also has Gmail beat with its solution to the large attachment issue, social dashboard, and sterling tools for keeping your inbox tidy.

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