See Computer Basics & Terminology for help with technical terms.
Stand-alone Email Clients
A stand-alone email client is a program on your computer that stores downloaded messages on your own computer.
Unfortunately, many desktop email clients are slowing or stopping development. The pickings are getting pretty slim. Web-based (cloud-based) email is more suited to mobile environments and is “free” (you pay by letting them cull your personal information).
You Need Archive Capabilities
I strongly recommend a stand-alone email client for your primary form of email communication, particularly you need to keep copies of important messages over the long term.
That way you can archive your mail on your computer without having to pay for increased storage or suddenly finding out that you've lost all access to your mail if your ISP goes out of business or changes their email hosting service.
Many of us remember “@Home” email addresses that were used all across North America but later failed.
Recommended Email Clients
I recommend the following stand-alone products.
Thunderbird — Low Volume Users
Thunderbird (free) is a powerful, yet easy to use, stand-alone email program that works great in conjunction with the Firefox browser.
Thunderbird works great for many home users those with simpler demands. It automatically sets up for Gmail and other such cloud-based email so you don't have to log onto via your browser to view and send your mail and will allow you to archive messages in separate folders for long-term storage independent of the server.
- Mozilla stopped developing Thunderbird in July 2012. Support continues, although development is slower (mostly security updates).
- Thunderbird Download, install and migration.
- Get Thunderbird addons | Install/use another language.
- Thunderbird standard diagnostic.
- Setting and Changing Email Passwords in Thunderbird.
- MozillaZine articles related to Thunderbird is the best place to look for help.
- MozBackup, a freeware program, can create backups of your Thunderbird (and Firefox) profiles, including your mail, favorites, contacts, etc. to transfer Thunderbird to another computer or for recovery.
Thunderbird is not recommended for those with high email volumes such as business users.
The Bat! — High Volume Users
The best secure email client software. Continuously improving since 1998.
The Bat! Professional (US$59.99) and Home (US$26.95) are both flexible, secure email programs and highly recommended for advanced users requiring more customization and handling of their email. It has an internal HTML viewer (for security), advanced message handling, OpenPGP encryption and more.
- Support for the Exchange Web Services (EWS) protocol makes The Bat! a secure, customizable and cost effective email client alternative to MS Outlook (version 7 required).
- Security and a speed boost are two of the benefits of running the 64-bit version of The Bat! (released with version 6.7.20).
- The license agreement allows a individual user to install multiple copies provided only one is active at a time (e.g. on your desktop and laptop). Corporate users need to obtain a site license and the rules are different.
- Screen shots of the mail interface, message editor window, sorting office and address book.
- Differences between the Home and the Professional Edition.
- The Bat! Voyager provides secure portable email via a USB drive. Free with The Bat! Professional Edition.
- The Bat! Tips and Tricks provides a quick link to using features.
Automated Message Handling
I am particularly impressed with the level of automated message handling. In fact there are so many features that it has taken me some time to learn to use them (and how to configure them) but when enacted they provide powerful tools for organizing and handling your mail. For example:
- The Sorting Office provides for filters and can be set up as general or separately for individual accounts.
- Folders can be configured to auto-delete messages based upon the age (e.g. a price list that updates weekly) or by number of messages (to avoid overloading your computer's system).
- You can limit the size of the messages that are downloaded (retrieving only the headings for larger messages) such as on your laptop where you don't need the full message and want to save space on your hard drive.
- The Bat! blocks external images by default, but controls image display on a per-sender basis, listing the image sources and allowing you to accept images from all the related sources or simply allow them for the sender's domain or on a one-time basis.
- The Bat! provides for better HTML-based templates for New Message, Reply and Forward for each account and can be configured for Confirmation messages to put in Outbox, Send immediately, Edit or Ignore (I use Ignore to disallow a reading confirmation receipt).
- The Bat! has a mailbox analyzer that will look for consistencies in email and automatically create new folders and filters for larger volume senders.
One weakness in The Bat! is spam control. There are various third-party addins, but you'll need to experiment to see what works for you.
I purchased AntispamSniper for The Bat! ($19.95) following the trial period.
Some of the others added “*SPAM*” to the subject line which is annoying for false positives as it wasn't easy to remove (AntispamSniper removed these tags).
Editing Subject Line Cumbersome
I've not determined an easy way to manually remove this added “*SPAM*” text (or edit a non-descriptive or unhelpful subject line). One work-around: drag the message to the Outbox, edit it, then drag it back.
Use Internal HTML Viewer
I strongly recommend that you configure The Bat! to use its own HTML viewer rather than the newer option to use the system's viewer (Internet Explorer) for security reasons.
Look in Options ⇒ Preferences ⇒ Viewer/Editor ⇒ HTML Viewer and select “Use The Bat!'s HTML viewer” and change the External images download control to “According to The Bat! rules.”
Postbox (US$9.95) may provide a Thunderbird alternative to those looking for something similar but with more features. It is a powerful email program which provides faster response times and has great features including integration with Dropbox, social media, Gmail and Google Calendar.
Your email, any way you like it.
- Windows and Mac versions (system requirements).
- Postbox Addons provide a calendar, import/export tools….
- View the blog for news, updates and hints.
- Volume discounts start at only 2 licenses. License agreement.
Pocomail and Barca were my earlier choices for a robust email program for people and businesses with heavier demands. These programs still work, even on Windows 10, but development has ceased and there are issues with displaying current HTML-based messages properly and with some secure mail retrieval protocols. Help transferring messages to The Bat!.
Alternative Email Clients
Wikipedia's Comparison of Email Clients gives a good overview of the broad range of email clients including their release history plus what operating systems, protocols and authentication methods they support. Most refer to Wikipedia pages with additional information about that specific program.
- Becky! Internet Mail (US$40.00) supports and has numerous features.
- Current Windows versions are supported.
- You can create not only multiple mailboxes but also create multiple profiles for each mailbox — very flexible mailbox management for people with multiple email accounts.
- The Beckymail! Yahoo! support group proved to be very responsive and helpful.
- My main concern is that it uses Internet Explorer to display HTML messages — something that even Outlook no longer does because of the security vulnerabilities (see my assessment of IE).
- DreamMail (free) is a powerful stand-alone email program designed to handle multi-user and multiple email accounts.
- Originating in China, the English version is available through the DreamMail European Community for Windows XP/Vista/7.
- It appears to be very powerful and may provide options that are harder to implement in Thunderbird for demanding users. However, I'm concerned about the privacy and safety of user data.
- The DreamMail Community Forum is the best place to look for help.
- Opera Mail (free) is a lightweight, customizable mail client.
- Current Windows versions are supported.
- Opera Mail used to be included as part of the Opera browser, but is now a separate install.
- The Opera Mail Tutorial provides help in mastering this program's features.
- Windows Mail was included free with Vista, but Microsoft didn't provide any email program with Windows 7.
- Microsoft took what they learned developing Windows Mail and updated their webmail services instead.
- While it is possible to enable Windows Mail on Windows 7 (most of the files are still there) these changes will create problems with Microsoft Update.
- Windows Live Mail (free) is part of online-based Windows Essentials.
Microsoft Outlook is routinely used by business and governments, particularly in large corporate environments where capabilities for inter-office communication and project coordination are necessary.
Outlook is not as widely used by consumers because it is both complex and isn't aimed at consumer requirements.
Outlook Not Supported
If you decide to move to Outlook, be aware that I cannot provide the level of support I can with my recommended programs. I neither use nor recommend Outlook. It has given me more than its share of headaches and has left a bad taste in my mouth.
Finding Alternative Support
If you're tied into an organization or office that uses Outlook and you're familiar with that program, be sure to verify that you'll have help when problems arise.
- Be sure to use a currently-supported version of Outlook (one that continues to see updates from Microsoft).
- Home users seldom need or can use the elements demanded of Office in these environments unless they are tied into them.
- Recovery from a computer crash can be a nightmare without a current backup of the Outlook.pst file.
- Microsoft's tight integration between their products generates security vulnerabilities that can transfer between Microsoft products and into Windows itself.
- In corporate environments, server backups of key files, sophisticated firewall systems and other measures can minimize these risks, but this is difficult for non-technical folks to emulate.
Winmail.dat Issues? Don't Blame the Recipient
Invisible (to Outlook users), winmail.dat attachments are generated by Outlook and other Microsoft products but affect only third-party email programs.
There may be issues with licensing and user rights:
- Microsoft is moving towards Outlook.com and Office 365 to compete with Google Docs and Gmail.
- InfoWorld reports that Outlook 2013 license terms are “draconian, obtuse — and documented incorrectly on Microsoft's own website.”
- While Office 365 offers use on multiple computers (including Apple) it requires an annual fee and the default storage is in the cloud, NOT on your computer.
- A monthly or annual fee (like Adobe's Creative Cloud) is attractive to the bean counters. Microsoft, like Adobe, could stop offering a stand-alone product at any time.
Other Outlook Resources
Outlook Resources contains resources for help with Outlook including backing it up, moving to or from Outlook and other helpful information.
Obsolete Email Programs
Outlook Express & Eudora Not Recommended
Programs where development has stopped and maintenance updates are not provided are not recommended. Such programs put your computer and data at risk.
- Outlook Express is automatically installed with the obsolete Windows XP. It should be uninstalled. See Importing/Exporting From Outlook Express.
- Eudora classic, though once popular, is now unsupported and obsolete. It should be uninstalled.
- Better alternatives include Thunderbird (free) or Postbox (US$9.95).
Whatever email client you choose, be sure to learn about security issues.
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Updated: December 24, 2015