How To Make Gmail Look and Feel Like it Used To

Gmail’s interface has changed quite a bit over this past year. With all the tabs splitting messages in your Inbox and the new Compose window, there may be some people getting confused and wanting some of the old Gmail back. Here’s a look at some small but effective tweaks to bring back that familiar feeling.

Gmail old

Get Rid of Gmail Tabs

First of all, if you believe that the new Gmail tabs, which can be used to split your inbox into Primary, Social, Promotions, Updates and Forums, bring nothing useful to your Gmail account — get rid of them. While they are usually easy to manage, the trouble-causing Promotions tab. To get the old feel back, just nix them all.

Check out Brian’s article on how to solve the tabs annoyance. Check it out here.


Make the Compose Window Big Again

Google redesigned the Compose window completely about this time last year — wow, time flies!. Anyway, the new version has become standard for all Gmail users, meaning there’s no escaping it.

Even though you can’t get rid of the new Compose box, you can at least get it to work in full-screen mode. That way, it’s closer to what it used to be.

Start composing a message, then click the More options arrow at the bottom right corner and select Default to full-screen.

New Gmail Compose full screen

From then on, when you click to Compose a message, the window will stretch over a large portion of the screen – it may not be the old one, but it still is more comfortable.

New Gmail Compose full screen applied

More Compact, Old Colors

Miss that tight look that Gmail used to have in the old days? It’s still in there, you just have to enable it. Click Options (gears icon) on the top right side of the Gmail inbox and select Compact.

Gmail Compact

Now your messages will be shown closer together and closer to the old look. And speaking of the old look, if you go to Themes in the same menu and select High Contrast, I’m pretty sure that things will start to look more familiar.

Gmail High Contrast theme

After you’ve done all of these things, you should have a Gmail inbox that looks something like this:

Gmail old style

Go Completely Back in Time

If you want something that looks almost exactly like the old interface, without all the bells and whistles that Gmail has added in later years, there is a solution. Mind you, it makes things more simple from all points of view, but you can always revert to “present day Gmail” if you feel like something’s missing.

Gmail’s HTML version, which is designed for when Gmail is loaded through a slow dial up connections. It bears a striking resemblance to what Gmail used to be back in the day. If that’s what you want, bookmark this address: 

Gmail old style html

What’s your opinion on the changes Gmail continually makes to your inbox and not allowing you the choice to opt-in? Do you like your Gmail the way it used to be or do you find the new features helpful?



  1. Winter Chick

    September 4, 2013 at 9:08 am

    I hate the new compose feature and where they’ve hidden some of the old familiar commands, like include original attachments.

    I don’t get why they have to fix something that wasn’t broken, in my opinion.

    But I do have something that’s broken, maybe you can assist? My company’s Help Desk is at a loss. You mentioned the Compact view, I have been defaulted to that view for quite a while now. My problem is that when I have an email that is wider than the viewable area I no longer have the vertical scroll bar at the bottom of the email so I can’t see what’s over on the right side. The only way that I’ve found, on my own (no thanks to the Help Desk) is to switch to Cozy and then right back to Compact. Voila – scroll bar magically appears.

    • Bogdan Bele

      September 4, 2013 at 10:28 am

      I’ve tried to provide fixes for some annoyances. Unfortunately (or fortunately for me), what you’re describing hasn’t happened to me and I don’t seem to be able to reproduce it. But who knows, maybe one of the readers of this article has the same issue and can help.

      • Winter Chick

        September 4, 2013 at 10:47 am

        Thank you and maybe someone else will have a fix.

        I love Groovy Post, I have found some great tips here. As well as everyone I’ve encountered here has been extremely helpful and friendly : )

        • Bogdan Bele

          September 4, 2013 at 11:39 am

          Thanks, we’re always happy to help. I was just thinking – don’t the cursor keys work for getting to the other side of the message (even if the bar isn’t there)?

          • Winter Chick

            September 4, 2013 at 11:49 am

            Yes, the arrow keys do work but it’s pretty cumbersome, at least for me. You used to have to open the message up before those keys worked. I haven’t tried using them in the new compose window, maybe that’s and improvement they made. BTW, my issue started long before the new compose window was introduced, so that isn’t the answer as to why the scroll bar disappeared. Still confusing why it’s there when I switch views and back but it’s not there on initial opening of GMail.

  2. Bogdan Bele

    September 5, 2013 at 12:27 am

    Did you try it in a different browser? Does it act the same way?

    • Winter Chick

      September 5, 2013 at 5:52 am

      I don’t know why I didn’t think of that! I did try it in IE and it works perfectly fine. Although I really like Firefox a lot better than IE, when it was working well, it looks more and more like I’m going to have to go back to IE, I’m just having too many issues with FF lately.

      Thank you once again :-)

      • Bogdan Bele

        September 5, 2013 at 9:20 am

        Glad to help! It just might be related to the way Firefox handles the changes in Gmail. You could try it in Google Chrome, too and see where that takes you – I like Firefox, too, but I’ll pick Chrome over IE any day.

        • Winter Chick

          September 5, 2013 at 9:40 am

          I tried Chrome for a while but I just didn’t like it, I don’t even remember why now. Perhaps I’ll give that a shot again as I understand your feelings about IE.

          Unfortunately I’ve got a couple company websites that I use daily and they haven’t joined the 21st century yet and I can only use them in IE. So…I’m stuck with IE for some things.

          • Bogdan Bele

            September 5, 2013 at 12:21 pm

            Chrome has evolved nicely, even if some things are still stuck in the past. Maybe they’ll evolve too :)

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