Do you think it can overthrow desktop email clients such as Outlook and Thunderbird and be used as a viable option as a desktop email client? I think yes. In fact, I have been using it like so for some time now.
Here are the steps and features I have enabled that take Gmail at par with desktop clients if not better!
Create a more desktop-like application
First and foremost, create a desktop application for Gmail. This as easy as clicking on "Create Application Shortcuts" for Chrome users. Firefox users can install Prism and create applications henceforth. This would give you start menu entries and nice desktop icons to access Gmail quickly. You will be able to use applications like Launchy to launch Gmail if you so prefer.
Make Gmail handle :mailto links
A click on a :mailto links opens up your default email client with the address field already filled in. The Gmail blog provides detailed instructions if you would like to make Gmail handle the :mailto links.
Enable offline support
You can enable Gmail offline via the settings page. Once enabled and after your messages have been downloaded, you will be able to view and interact with your messages offline; just like you would do with a desktop client. You will be able to compose new messages, which will be sent the next time you are online.
Configure multiple accounts
One of the most prominent reasons that people cite for using a desktop email client is the fact that they want access to multiple email accounts. If that is the case with you, look around inside Gmail’s settings. Gmail has built-in support to access as many as 5 other mail accounts. This is specially useful in situations where you would like to access your work email or other accounts inside Gmail.
To configure multiple accounts, head over to the Settings page, inside the Accounts and Import tab you can configure “Send mail as” and “Check mail using POP3” options to add multiple accounts. The settings you enter here in are just the same as you would enter in any email client.
With this much effort you will be able to check different accounts for new mail and using any configured email address.
Use filters and labels
Folders as they are commonly known in various email clients are another desktop client strong hold. They let you sort your email into different folders for easy access and an organised inbox. Gmail does this one better. Instead of folders you get Labels inside Gmail. Labels are similar to folders only better, you can have a message with more than one label. You can quickly jump to a label, use it with a filter to automate tasks.
Infact filters and labels combined together give you near magical powers that can greatly reduce your daily email workload. You can automatically sort incoming mail into labels (or folders as some people want to see them as), archive emails automatically, delete them if you know you can overlook some of them. You can even create custom replies that will be mailed to the sender if the mail fulfils a certain criteria mentioned in the filter. How awesome is that?
Enable keyboard shortcuts
If you like the ease of use and speed you gain by using keyboard shortcuts, then you just cannot ignore Gmail. There is hardly anything that you cannot achieve via keyboard shortcuts inside Gmail. Select conversations, apply labels, navigate forward and back, star, delete, archive, you name it and it can most certainly be accomplished by a keyboard shortcut or two. You can enable keyboard shortcuts by visiting Settings > General tab. Absolutely adore the keyboard shortcuts, you can get a quick overview of all the shortcuts by typing ‘?’.
Almost every desktop email client offers notification when a new mail arrives. While Gmail doesn’t offer notifications natively just yet, you can use one of the many Gmail notifier applications. You have the choice to go with a barebones notification app or get a little more extravagant with animations and spiders!
Surely, looking above at all the features that Gmail has to offer, it is hard to dismiss it as a email-client replacement. The only issue presently is the speed. It seems painfully slow at times and is specially frustrating when you hit a few key combinations secretly feeling upbeat about what you just did and then you have to wait for Gmail to respond. And all it can come up with is "Loading". That said, I still prefer it over desktop clients, I love the interface and the ability to get more out of an application if you are willing to put in some thoughts and time.
A lot of people however, think just the opposite, swear by their desktop clients and can’t stand the web based interface for a moment. Which side are you on? Would love to hear your thoughts about your preferred choice. As for me, come Chrome OS and I already have my email client sorted out!