Google Gmail Labs Activates 49 Languages

Google's Gmail Labs is now available in 49 languages, the company announced. Most Gmail features already supported dozens of languages. Five years after launching its e-mail service, Google is busily positioning Gmail to compete more fully against Microsoft, Yahoo and other major e-mail providers.

Google Gmail Labs, the company's testing ground for experimental features for its cloud-based e-mail service, is available in 49 languages as of March 30.

Launched in June 2008, Labs (which, like the rest of Gmail, seems to be perpetually in beta) allows users to enable everything from YouTube previews in e-mail to custom label colors to Mail Googles, which prevents e-mails from being sent until the user solves a series of math questions designed to stump the particularly inebriated. These sometimes-breakable, often-quirky features had previously been available only in English.

"You may wonder, since most Gmail features are available in almost every supported language immediately at launch, why Labs hasn't been," Pal Takacsi, engineering manager for Google, posited on an official corporate blog. "The truth is that Labs itself is a bit of an experiment-it came out of people's [20 percent time], and we weren't sure if it would really work. Specifically, we thought there was a chance that everything would just break."

Some 43 Labs applications currently exist; whenever a user signs on, the application creates a custom version of JavaScript based on how many of those 43 features are enabled. According to Takacsi's math, that means a user could be the recipient of one of 8 trillion possible versions of the Gmail JavaScript-a number that increases to 430 trillion once you add those 49 languages.

"It would obviously be a challenge to actually test all of these versions," Takacsi added in the blog. "But we put a lot of effort into building an architecture that supports this type of modularity, and fortunately, it seems to be working pretty well so far. So we figured, why not, what's another 422 trillion permutations?"

Gmail has been adding features lately, aiming to create an application potentially robust enough for enterprise use, despite some recent outages. In 2008, monthly unique visitors to the Gmail site rose 43 percent to 29.6 million.
In January 2009, Google offered offline access for Gmail, putting the application in a more direct competitive position against Microsoft, Yahoo Zimbra and other companies providing offline access for their signature e-mail product. It later enabled offline access to Google Calendar.

On March 20, Google announced that it had integrated an "unsend" feature into Gmail, allowing users 5 seconds to repeal a message about which they have second thoughts; Microsoft Outlook, with its "Recall" button, and AOL e-mail, with its own "unsend" feature, already replicated that service.