The feature, which takes advantage of functionality available only in HTML5, can be turned on and off in the Gmail settings menu. It can also be configured to display alerts only for messages that Gmail considers important, instead of for every incoming item.
The feature is intended to keep users aware of e-mail and chat messages, even when they aren’t looking at the Gmail interface browser window, according to Google.
“Many of us are guilty of constantly switching back to Gmail to check for new messages. And if you’re like me, you’ve probably missed an important chat message because you weren’t looking at your Gmail window when it came in,” wrote Andrew Wilson, a Google software engineer, in a blog post.
These notifications should help increase the attractiveness of the Gmail Web interface, which Google maintains is superior to e-mail desktop client software, like Microsoft Outlook. However, especially in corporate settings, many users still prefer to access their Google Apps Gmail accounts via Outlook.