Using Gmail as a Central Unified Online Email Client


An advantage of using email client software is that all your emails come into a single central system. You can quickly search through multiple inboxes to find information, and check for new mail across many systems instantaneously.

Desktop Email Client Problems

Changes in how email services operate have resulted in various problems with desktop-based email clients. For example, Apple Mail has had difficulty properly handing Gmail messages with incorrectly displaying unread message counts. If you’re on an Apple iPhone, then it’s possible to have live interaction with your Microsoft email account. However, on a desktop computer, it’s only possible to download messages. Any reading, deleting, organizing, or marking as spam will not happen on the Microsoft server. So, work must be duplicated. The multi-platform Thunderbird email client works well with most email systems, yet doesn’t work with Network Solutions email. Anyone saving years worth of emails locally on their hard drive risks losing everything if there isn’t a backup.

Online Email Clients

The problem in the past with online email services is that you needed to login to many different accounts to check your messages. Over time, email services like AOL, Yahoo, Hotmail, and Gmail added the ability to retrieve messages from other systems.

Using Gmail as an Online Email Client

There are several options with Gmail that control interaction with other email systems:

  1. Alias. It’s possible to send messages using an alternate email address such as Setup requires confirmation that you can access the email account you are sending as, so it must be a real address.
  2. Import. For a one-time import of an email account you plan to close down, or forward from in the future, it’s possible to use the Import feature. This can also import contacts. This is for a one-time import of emails.
  3. Active. Actively checking for and retrieving emails from other accounts is possible. It’s important to note that messages will show up periodically rather than instantaneously.
    1. Delays. There may be a delay of a few minutes or more before new messages actually appear. This won’t be an issue for most people, but for those who use email as a replacement for the phone or texting, and expect nearly instantaneous communications, you may want to consider having messages forwarded from your old email account into Google. This method of pushing messages into Google in real-time is better than fetching emails periodically.

Flagging Incoming Messages

It’s possible to Flag (tag) incoming messages from other accounts so they are automatically organized by account. This makes it easy to have different ‘folders’ or groups for different accounts. The Flagging option is automatically selected when importing or setting up the Active method of email checking. However, it can also be setup later. For example, if you have messages forwarded from your old email account, you can flag all those incoming messages based on the address. Any email addresses in Gmail that are identified as sent to your old address can be flagged by following these steps:

  1. Perform an advanced search of your Inbox by clicking the small faint gray downward pointing triangle in the right of the search box.
  2. Next to the To entry, provide the full email address for your old account that is forwarding emails into your Google account.
  3. In the bottom right of the box, click Create a Filter Based on this Search.
  4. Choose the option to Apply the Label and select a label or create a new one that will identify these messages as being from your old email account.
  5. If you choose the option to ‘Skip the Inbox’ (also called Archiving) the messages will show up in All Messages, but not in your Inbox as something new that needs to be processed. They will also be found under the new Tag you just created. So, if you want all the incoming emails from your old account to be put in a single location without seeing them all in your inbox, you can do this.


You can have unique signatures for each of your Alias accounts. This way you can have a signature that matches the account you’re sending as.

  1. Click the Gear in the upper right corner.
  2. Choose Settings.
  3. Under the General tab scroll down to find Signature. Use the dropdown menu to select an alias email account and then enter your signature details.

Send From Account

You can set Gmail to reply to messages using the Alias that matches who they were writing to.

  1. Click the Gear in the upper right corner.
  2. Choose Settings.
  3. Under Accounts and Import, Send Mail As, When replying to a message, choose “Reply from the same address the message was sent to.”

Microsoft Exchange Support

Gmail doesn’t support Microsoft Exchange integration. However, it is possible to forward email from your Exchange account to your Gmail account for a better online experience. For example, those using Google Chrome on Linux will find that the Exchange web interface is very limited. A Google interface is much better.

Best Practices

The best approach to using Gmail depends on your needs, but generally it’s a good idea to Forward messages from your existing and old accounts to Gmail, and create an automatic Filter and Label to automatically organize those messages. Avoid creating Filters and Labels for anything that can be quickly and easily searched on, such as all emails from a certain person.


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