Weird Web App Design ... from Google

I'm a big fan of Google Desktop. Hit CTRL twice and I can type in the name of any program or document on my computer to access it. Oddly, this doesn't seem to be what Google intends Desktop to do: it intends it to be much more, a host for various "Gadgets" to take up screen real-estate.

Consider the email gadget: it gives some useful features, namely the Microsoft Outlook inspired popup on recepiet of new mail. This can be quite handy, but it can also be distracting. But lets say this is a good feature. The weird thing about the gmail gadget is that when you open a message, gmail comes up with just that message, and no context. You can't get to other messages through the newly popped up web interface. This is frustrating because you've been trained to use the application in one way, and now the gmail gadget is forcing you to use it in another way.

I can understand the reasoning: don't confuse users by transferring "application level" control over to another interface (namely, the browser) when the application level control is handled somewhere else (namely, the gadget). This is indeed a cleaner approach from a programmer's point of view: it is a perfect seperation of responsibilities. Gadget gets app level control, the browser shows a single message. No one steps on each others toes, and the functionality is orthogonal.

But it sucks from a usability standpoint. Users (or this user, at least) am used to seeing a message in the context of an "inbox" and, without changing interfaces, moving "forward" and "backward" through a list of recieved messages.

Admittedly, Gmail, GDesktop, and this particular gadget are "beta". But since everything google makes, apparently, is still in beta and will remain so for the indefinite future, doesn't that sort of reduce to meaninglessness the "beta" moniker?

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