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Friday, December 02, 2005

Google's Gmail gains virus scanning capability

Google Inc. has added a virus scanning feature to its Gmail Web mail service, complementing the existing virus protection based on blocking certain types of file attachments, such as executables.

Google informed users of the new feature on a Web page where the company announces new Gmail features.

Now, Gmail will automatically scan all attachments users send and receive, according to a frequently asked questions section devoted specifically to this new functionality.

Gmail will attempt to clean or remove viruses from infected attachments so that users can access the attachment’s information; otherwise, users will not be able to download the attachment. Gmail will also prevent users from sending messages with infected attachments.

Until now, Google has protected Gmail users by blocking messages that carry attachments commonly associated with virus attacks.

Google began rolling out the virus scanning feature this week, so not all users have it yet, a Google spokeswoman said Thursday. However, by the end of this week, all users will have it, she said.

Lacking this functionality put Gmail at a competitive disadvantage in the market, an analyst said. “This was one of the main features they didn’t have that other providers did,” said Marcel Nienhuis, an analyst with The Radicati Group Inc.

A little over a year ago, a Google official told IDG News Service that the company was working on giving Gmail virus scanning capabilities, possibly by licensing technology from a third party.

The Google spokeswoman confirmed on Thursday that Google is licensing the virus-scanning technology from a third party, but she declined to disclose the company’s name.

Google launched Gmail in April 2004. It is still in beta, or test, mode. To open an account, users must either request the service from Google by sending the company a text message from a mobile phone or be invited via e-mail by an existing Gmail user.

Despite the absence of virus scanning capabilities and the hurdles users need to clear to get an account, Gmail seems to have attracted many people to its ranks, Nienhuis said. Now, it will become even more appealing to current and future users, he said.

The lack of virus scanning is probably one key reason why Gmail is still in beta, so it’s possible that the service may exit its beta phase now, he said. The other major feature Gmail is missing is a companion calendaring application, he said.

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