I realize this is a purely academic issue, since the best way to send e-mail from a website is via a server script, but I would like to know the answer for my own use. My computer uses windows 7.
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You can designate Gmail as your default mailto handler. This means that when you click on any hyperlinked email address, a Gmail compose window will open so you can send a message to that address from Gmail.
There are 2 main ways:
If you use Windows: Download the Gmail notifier. Right-click the Notifier icon in your system tray, and select Options. Check the box next to Use Gmail for internet mailto: links. Click OK. If you decide later that you don't want to use Gmail as your default email application, simply uncheck the box. (source Google Support)
If you use Google Chrome there is also another way:
Allow sites to open special types of links (handler)
Chrome allows web services to ask if you’d like to use them to open certain links. While most links generally take you to another page, some links can open programs and perform other actions. For example, mailto: links can open your email program and webcal: links can add events to your calendar program. These links are referred to as protocols and the programs they use are called handlers. Many web services these days, including Gmail and Google Calendar, can act as handlers.
For example, when you open Gmail in Chrome, a protocol handler icon may appear in the omnibox next to the star bookmarks icon. Click it to show the following options:
If you'd like to allow Gmail to open all email links, select the Use Gmail radio button. When you click a hyperlinked email address on a page, Gmail's compose window will open. Select No to keep how your computer opens email links the same way as before. Choose Ignore to prevent the request from appearing again when you visit Gmail.
Allow or disable site handler requests
By default, web services are allowed to show messages about protocol links when you visit their sites. To disable or re-enable these messages in Chrome, follow the steps below.
Choose a default handler or remove a handler
Use the Settings page to manage the web services you’ve allowed to act as handlers.
Choose a default handler
Remove a handler
(source: Google Support)
To make Gmail your default mail application (so it launches when you click on mailto: links), read Google's article on the subject.
To force a page to navigate to a Gmail compose window, look at this question.