A major upgrade to Gmail is getting the thumbs down from users who complain that the new version is extremely slow, often fails to load pages and even crashes their browsers.
People have flooded discussion forums with complaints since Google began "upgrading" users about two weeks ago to the new version, popularly referred to in the blogosphere as Gmail 2.0.
Ironically, Gmail 2.0, which features an upgraded contacts manager, is designed to be faster and more stable. Gmail 2.0 is based on what a Google spokesman calls "a major structural code change" upon which new features will be launched in coming months.
"Most users should see a marked improvement in performance. We recommend using IE7 and Firefox 2 to take full advantage of Gmail's speedier interface," said spokesman Jason Freidenfelds via e-mail.
Asked about the problems users are reporting, Freidenfelds didn't address the complaints specifically but said that Google appreciates the feedback it's getting. "The new code underlying Gmail should allow us to roll out performance improvements more frequently," he said.
Users interviewed via e-mail for this article report a variety of performance problems with Gmail 2.0.
The most common complaint is that it is generally very slow, with delays of a minute or more when attempting to display the inbox upon logging on, to record keystrokes when typing text and to respond to mouse clicks. Often the tasks time out. Others report that Gmail 2.0 repeatedly crashes or freezes their browsers, in particular Firefox.
If these users switch to the "old" Gmail version, the problems go away. However, these users say they have to switch manually every time they log on, because Gmail 2.0 automatically became their default version once they got upgraded to it.
When Google upgraded his account last week, Jim Sellers, a software programmer based in Ottawa, Canada, was eager to try Gmail 2.0's improved contacts manager, but his Firefox 2.0 browser kept crashing both on Windows 2000 and Mac OS X 10.4.
"These problems were very disruptive. I spend at least 25 percent of my day using my browser as one of my main working tools. To have it crash like that made the new version of Gmail a non-option," said Sellers, an otherwise satisfied Gmail user since June 2004.
As a workaround, Sellers has bookmarked the URL for the "old" Gmail version. However, others expressed worry that Google at some point will phase out access to the "old" Gmail without having fully resolved problems.
Some users interviewed also complained that Google didn't notify them that they would be moved to Gmail 2.0, or give them an option to decline the upgrade.
Others, on the other hand, trust Google will soon solve the issues. That's the case of Jack Freeman, a retiree in Oklahoma who, for lack of broadband options in his area, has learned to live with, and make the best of, his relatively slow dial-up connection.
For example, he enjoys posting answers in Google discussion forums, and in recent days has been addressing a lot of questions about the slowness of Gmail 2.0. Freeman's solution to the delays has been to toggle between the two versions of the service. "It is still my favorite e-mail program," Freeman said.
Google is moving people progressively to Gmail 2.0, so some users have it and others don't.
Google didn't immediately reply to a series of follow-up questions, so it's not clear what percentage of people have access to the new version and how many are experiencing problems with it. It's also unclear when Google expects to have everyone on the new version and when the performance problems will be solved.
What's clear is that the problems have unleashed a storm of complaints. A search, sorted by date, for "Gmail slow" in the Gmail Help Discussion forum returns about 35 pages of results related to problems with Gmail 2.0.