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Head to Head Battle of the Email Clients

As an email hosting service, we at LuxSci are frequently asked about email clients. We would like to share with you of our expertise and opinions about the most popular email clients. We’ve created a quick guide to email programs that includes an explanation of the client, its major features, and what makes it stand out.

With any kind of run down of this sort, many things will be left out or glossed over for simplicity or focus.  If you are aware of anything that really needs to be added to this list, in terms of email clients or pros/cons, or if you spot an error, please let us know!

Microsoft Outlook

Microsoft Outlook is a good overall email client and personal Information manager (PIM). This client was designed to replace Microsoft Mail that only had basic email features. Microsoft wanted to offer a new email client for their Microsoft Exchange Server that would give Lotus Notes a run for its money. To do this, they added the features of Microsoft Schedule + to the Microsoft Mail client and also integrated the address book. The result was Outlook, a full-featured email client that supports POP, IMAP, and SMTP. It was also designed from the ground up to work with the Microsoft Exchange server.
While it is a solid program, the Outlook profile (where all your configuration information is stored) tends to become corrupted more frequently than other email clients because the information is stored In the Windows Registry and not in individual files. It also stores emails locally in the form of a Personal Storage Folders (PST) file. One downside of PSTs is that they have a 2 GB size limit (unless you are using Outlook 2003 or better); once you reach that limit you can no longer access the PST without help from Microsoft. Outlook comes with built-in support for S/MIME encryption, but does not have built-in PGP support. Outlook is a retail client and can be purchased separately or as part of Microsoft Office.
Pros:
  • Designed specifically to share information with Exchange servers
  • PIM (Personal Information Manager)
  • Lots of documentation and help files in case you need help
  • Works on almost all versions of Windows
  • Native support for S/MIME email encryption (configuration instructions)
  • Can synchronize with most mobile devices (because most mobile devices can directly interface with Outlook).
  • Supports POP, IMAP, and SMTP
  • Supports SSL for downloading and sending email messages securely (Why is this important?)
Cons:
  • Profiles frequently become corrupt; this can cause connection issues to email servers and is a top LuxSci Support issue
  • Can only use a local sent email folder; it is unable to be reliably configured to use a server-based IMAP folder for sent email storage.
  • No native support for PGP – if you want PGP, you’ll need to install an add-on (most of the decent ones for Outlook are not free)
  • Error messages are very vague and usually do not specify the real problem
  • Has problems with TLS for SMTP; i.e. Outlook assumes that secure SMTP connections on any port other than 25 are always via SSL (and not TLS — what’s the difference?).
  • Not Free – Must be purchased with Microsoft Office or separately
  • PST (Personal Storage Folders) – when they reach 2GB in size they can no longer be accessed
  • Does not work on Mac or Linux
  • No support for IMAP keywords / tags on email messages
  • Does not support AES SSL encryption unless you are using Vista.

Microsoft Outlook Express

Microsoft Outlook Express is actually part of Internet Explorer (up to Internet Explorer 6). Outlook Express is a good POP, IMAP, and SMTP client; however, it is not a personal information manager like Microsoft Outlook. This email client is more like the old Microsoft Mail email client in that it does not store files in a PST, but as individual files locally. Because of this, the only local storage limit for emails is your computer’s available disk space. Microsoft discontinued Outlook Express when Internet Explorer 7 was released. It was replaced by Windows Mail (in Vista systems only) and Windows Live Mail (for other versions of Windows). The most significant downside of this email client is that it is no longer being updated.
Pros:
  • Free email client
  • Supports S/MIME natively
  • Supports POP, IMAP, and SMTP
  • Supports SSL for downloading and sending email messages securely
  • Stores emails as individual files so storage is only limited by disk space on your hard drive
  • Is a better IMAP client than Microsoft Outlook. I.e. it can be configured to save “sent” and “Draft” messages to folders on the IMAP server, and is overall more reliable and robust in its IMAP support.
Cons:
  • Does not synchronize with most mobile devices
  • Does not support PIM functions such as calendars or tasks
  • No longer being developed by Microsoft
  • No native support for PGP – must use an add-on
  • No support for IMAP keywords / tags on email messages

Windows Mail

Microsoft Windows Mail was designed specifically for Microsoft Vista as a replacement for Outlook Express. It is free, but only available on Microsoft Vista and only offers basic email functionality such as POP, IMAP, and SMTP. It includes an address book, but not calendars or tasks. The client has native support for S/MIME, but requires an add-on for PGP. The downside of this client is that it is only available on Microsoft Vista machines.
Pros:
  • Free with Microsoft Vista
  • Native Support for S/MIME
  • Supports POP, IMAP, and SMTP
  • Supports SSL for downloading and sending email messages securely
  • Stores emails as individual files so local storage is only limited by disk space on your hard drive
Cons:
  • Only available on Microsoft Vista
  • Does not natively support PGP – must use an add-on
  • Does not synchronize with most mobile devices
  • Does not support PIM functions such as calendars or tasks
  • Does not work on Mac or in Linux
  • We have seen reports of performance problems with this email client.
  • No support for IMAP keywords / tags on email messages

Windows Live Email

Microsoft Windows Live Email was designed to be the Outlook Express replacement for people not using Vista. This email client is free and can be downloaded via the link provided after this description. Windows Live Email is a POP, IMAP, and SMTP client that stores emails locally as separate files (no PST’s). Live Email also natively supports S/MIME encryption. PGP is not supported without an add-on. It’s a good overall email client and is free, but does not include any calendaring or tasks.
Pros:
  • Native Support for S/MIME
  • Stores emails as individual files so storage is only limited by disk space on your hard drive
  • Supports POP, IMAP, SMTP
  • Supports SSL for downloading and sending email messages securely
  • Free from Microsoft
Cons:
  • Does not natively support PGP – must use an add-on
  • Does not synchronize with most mobile devices
  • Does not support PIM functions such as calendar or tasks
  • Does not work on Mac or Linux
  • No support for IMAP keywords / tags on email messages

Mozilla Thunderbird

Mozilla Thunderbird is a great all-around email client. It was designed by the Mozilla foundation, the same people who created Firefox, and is LuxSci’s favorite email client. It supports POP, IMAP, and SMTP, but is unique in that you can utilize “add-ons” to extend the functionality of the client – there is an extremely large library of free add-ons available. For example, the add-on called “Lightning” will add calendaring and task functions. New add-ons are being made available every day. This email client is free and works in Windows, Linux, and Mac. It also supports S/MIME encryption natively and PGP encryption with an add-on (called “Enigmail”). It is available for download from Mozilla.com (link provided below).
Pros:
  • Supports the use of Tags to label emails (aka IMAP Keywords)
  • Handles large numbers of folders well
  • Supports S/MIME natively (configuration instructions)
  • Supports PGP via the free Enigmail add-on (configuration instructions)
  • Supports multiple email signatures pretty easily
  • Supports POP, IMAP, and SMTP
  • Supports SSL for downloading and sending email messages securely
  • Is extensible: You can extend the functionality of the product with free add-ons
  • Works on Windows, Mac, and Linux
  • Stores emails as individual files so local storage is only limited by disk space on your hard drive
  • Has exceptionally good support for both TLS and SSL modes of connection security, as well as for use of alternate ports for all services.
  • Is extremely configurable and provides informative error messages when there are problems.
  • Supports 256-bit AES SSL encryption on all platforms.
Cons:
  • Does not support IMAP Push (though it does support IMAP IDLE)
  • Some features require advanced knowledge of email and email standards
  • Does not synchronize with most mobile devices

Mail.app (aka Mail and Apple Mail)

Mail.app is the email client that ships with Apple’s newest operating systems; it is only available for Macs. Mail.app is a nice email client for the Mac. It supports POP, IMAP, and SMTP, as well as mail encryption with S/MIME. The latest version also includes Notes and to-do lists. The downside of Mail.app is that it does not work well with alternative SMTP ports.
Pros:
  • Designed for the Mac
  • Supports POP, IMAP, and SMTP
  • Supports SSL for downloading and sending email messages securely
  • Supports Encryption via S/MIME (configuration instructions)
  • Has some basic PIM functionality
  • Can synchronize with iPhone
  • Supports AES SSL Encryption
Cons:
  • Does not have native PGP support
  • Only available on Mac
  • Does not support SSL encryption on alternate SMTP Ports (though TLS encryption on those ports is supported). This is the opposite of the similar issue in Microsoft Outlook.
  • Support and availability of help files are limited
  • Mail.app does not work well with large numbers of messages or many concurrently configured email accounts.
  • Recent versions of Mail.app have less configurable options than previous versions.
  • Problems with Mail.app foibles lead to the largest number of support questions at LuxSci,.
  • No support for IMAP keywords / tags on email messages

Entourage

Microsoft Entourage is marketed as “Microsoft Outlook for the Mac”, but most Mac users agree that it is not quite there yet. It is a good email program for POP, IMAP, and SMTP. It also includes some personal information management tools such as calendars and tasks, but is not completely compatible with Microsoft Exchange server as of yet. This email client is also a retail application and is not available for free.

Pros:
  • Supposed to be “Microsoft Outlook for the Mac”
  • Supports POP, IMAP, and SMTP
  • Includes limited calendaring and to-do functions
  • Will work with Exchange via IMAP
  • Supports SSL for downloading and sending email messages securely
  • Supports email encryption via S/MIME (configuration instructions)
Cons:
  • Not fully compatible with Microsoft Exchange server; only works with Exchange server via IMAP
  • Not a lot of documentation on this product
  • Not Free – must be purchased from Microsoft
  • Does not natively support PGP – must use an add-on
  • Does not perform well with large numbers of folders using IMAP
  • Issues when connecting securely over alternate ports
  • No support for IMAP keywords / tags on email messages
  • Does not support AES SSL Encryption

Eudora

Eudora is a full featured, free email client that went Open Source in 2007. Features include POP, IMAP, and SMTP. The newest version of this client can use the same add-ons as Mozilla Thunderbird because it now uses most of the same code. The downsides of this client are that it does not always show HTML email content properly with the built-in HTML viewer and that it is not updated regularly at this time.
Pros:
  • Supports POP,IMAP, and SMTP
  • Supports SSL for downloading and sending email messages securely
  • Supports S/MIME and PGP (via the Enigmail plug-in)
  • Is extensible: You can extend the functionality of the product with free add-ons. Here are some significant ones: Lightning for calendar and task support and Enigmail for PGP support
  • Supports 256-bit AES SSL Encryption on Mac and Windows.
Cons:
  • Does not synchronize with most mobile devices
  • Does not always show HTML email content properly with built in HTML viewer
  • Unless you like the Eudora interface (which many people do), it would be better to use Thunderbird itself for the most recent version of what is essentially the same underlying email client now.

Kmail (aka KDEmail)

Nice free email client for Linux machines. This client does POP, IMAP, and SMTP. It can also use encryption natively via the openPGP standard. It is free on all Linux systems.
Pros:
  • Available on Linux
  • Free on Linux
  • Supports POP, IMAP, and SMTP
  • Supports SSL for downloading and sending email messages securely
  • Supports PGP via openPGP
Cons:
  • Does not synchronize with most mobile devices
  • No support for IMAP keywords / tags on email messages

Pine

Pine is a solid email client that supports POP, IMAP, and SMTP. The downside to this email client is that it is no longer being developed. It has been replaced by Alpine, which is still under development. This client is ideal for use in terminals, as it has no GUI (Graphical User Interface).
Pros:
  • Supports POP, IMAP, and SMTP
  • Supports SSL for downloading and sending email messages securely
  • Free
  • Good for use with text-only terminals
Cons:
  • No longer being developed as Pine, now goes by Alpine
  • Command line utility
  • Does not synchronize with most mobile devices

What to Choose?

More than web browsers, email clients are usually chosen based upon personal preference, aesthetics and familiarity. As such, there will always be strong adherents to many email clients. However, in the absence of personal preferences, we can recommend clients based on what we think would provide the best and most reliable IMAP+SMTP email experience for our users.

For Windows users:

  1. Unless you need extensive PIM support, we recommend Mozilla Thunderbird
  2. If you need extensive use of calendars, tasks, and address books, need to synchronize these with LuxSci and/or your mobile devices, and need these to be integrated into your email client, we recommend Microsoft Outlook

For Macintosh users:

  1. Unless you need extensive PIM support, we recommend Mozilla Thunderbird
  2. If you need extensive use of calendars, tasks, and address books, need to synchronize these with mobile devices, Mobile Me, etc., and need these to be integrated into your email client or OS, we recommend Mail.app.

For Linux users:

  1. We recommend Mozilla Thunderbird

6 Responses to “Head to Head Battle of the Email Clients”

  1. Optimizing Mozilla Thunderbird | LuxSci FYI Says:

    [...] a plethora of modern email programs like Microsoft Outlook and Eudora (our blog posting "Head To Head Battle of Email Clients" discuss several of these) and works with any email program and device that properly supports [...]

  2. Having Problems Sending Email Because Your ISP is Blacklisted? | LuxSci FYI Says:

    [...] of your IP address will not be an issue.  However, what about sending via SMTP with your favorite Outlook or Thunderbird [...]

  3. What Makes a Web Site HIPAA-Secure? | LuxSci FYI Says:

    [...] any of your favorite email clients, like Thunderbird, Outlook, or Eudora, to securely access, unlock, and read the secure email messages over IMAP (or [...]

  4. Alternate SMTP Ports – Send Email From Any Location | LuxSci FYI Says:

    [...] sending outbound email from an email program (like Outlook or Thunderbird) or from a mobile device (like iPhone or Blackberry) that is not using Premium MobileSync, your [...]

  5. iPhone Email Tips and Tricks | LuxSci FYI Says:

    [...] it from scratch, this often solves the problem. (This is similar to what you need to do when an Outlook account gets [...]

  6. scottcjordan Says:

    “Mail.app does not work well with large numbers of messages or many concurrently configured email accounts.”

    May have once been true but no longer. Since Snow Leopard and especially now in Lion, I have found Mail.app to be far more stable with my years of pack-rat email archives than Thunderbird (and certainly Outlook, which does terrible things if one’s .pst file exceeds a certain limit).

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