/ Technology

Stop using email clients like Outlook

Microsoft Outlook email inbox

Are you still using an email client program like Outlook? You can enjoy much more for less hassle with a web-based email account. It’s time to move on from a service that came with your Windows XP computer.

We get loads of emails about problems with email client programs, like Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express and Thunderbird, sent through to our Which? Computing Helpdesk.

They’re often awkward to set up due to their many settings, with some broadband providers requiring things like SSL (secure socket layer) to be enabled. ‘What the hell’s that?’ I hear you cry – well there you go, that’s what I mean! Email client programs are needlessly complicated and unreliable.

In fact, they can make your life a misery. These programs were created at a time when you were charged by the minute to be online, so it made sense to grab your emails as quickly as possible and get offline. But with broadband as it is now – this just isn’t relevant anymore.

Change your Outlook – move to webmail

The good news is that there is an alternative – web-based email accounts. You don’t have to know about all the weird stuff going on under the bonnet – webmail just works and that’s what we want, isn’t it?

Ceri Stanaway has already championed webmail services, like Hotmail and Gmail. But after over 1,500 votes, only a third of you said you used webmail as your main email account – worryingly over half admitted to using their internet service provider’s service (ISP).

Yet, the good thing about webmail is that you can access it from any computer anywhere in the world. They can even come with other features, like storage for your music, pics and documents. Plus, Gmail has a great spam filter, so you’re not going to be bombarded with useless messages.

Did you start using an ISP email account simply because they said it was free? Webmail’s free too! What’s the catch? Well you might have to put up with a few ads, but in reality they’re hardly noticeable, especially when Gmail’s ads only take up one line.

You don’t need emails on your computer

Messages to our helpline have also told me that they use email clients because they want a copy of their emails on their computer. To them I say that this is just putting them in harm’s way. If you download emails to your computer, you’re putting them at risk of fire, flood and theft like everything else in your home. It’s much better to leave your emails on the internet where you can access them wherever and whenever you want.

‘But I want to back them up.’ Why? Webmail providers back up your emails every day -they wouldn’t be in business for very long if they didn’t. If your computer has a meltdown then all those downloaded emails will be gone. But with webmail you can just get on another computer and off you go again – they’ll all be there waiting for you.

So why not throw off the shackles of email client programs like Outlook and get yourself a webmail account? Or are you happy with your out-dated attachment?


I just cannot see any advantage to using Outlook Express compared to my isp provided email service BT Yahoo. There is not anything that I can’t do that outlook can do or better. Why do I want to download junk, spam or even viruses on to my PC?

Geoff H says:
18 December 2010

I used Outlook a lot every day for about 12 years when I worked. Now I’m retired, I have a gmail account, which is excellent. However, probably because I’m so used to it, I still prefer Outlook to view and process my emails. Therefore, I simply view my gmail account through Outlook (the old 2003 version, I’m afraid – I kept my work laptop when I left), although I can, of course, still log on to gmail direct. This is very simple to set up as gmail supply the easy to understand instructions. The systems also sync automatically. This seems to me to be the best of both worlds.

Colin Grant says:
19 December 2010

I use Outlook 2007 at work (no choice), and Outlook 2003 at home, and am happy with both, as they easily integrate mail with my calendar and task list (nobody else has mentioned using the latter). There was a brief issue when my ISP (Virgin) changed their webmail to a Gmail hosted system, as the conversion instructions only dealt with Outlook Express, but this was quickly sorted via their excellent Help Forum which is actually read (and acted on) by their technical support staff.
I also have a separate Gmail account which I use just to synchronise the two Outlook calendars, as I am no longer allowed to connect my smart phone to my work PC. As stated elsewhere, I can also access my mail account online via webmail, and can do that wherever I have web access.


There’s a lot of comments that seem to imply that Outlook is the only email client and Windows is the only operating systems. There’s a wealth of email clients available, many of them free, and they are nearly all better than Outlook.

Web mail is defintely not a replacement for a proper email client for me but I am old-fashioned, having used the internet from before the web existed. Web mail is good for a quick check on your emails when you are out and about but I wouldn’t be without the convenience of an email client. It’s Eudora for me.

John F says:
30 December 2010

No one seems to have mentioned that that client based programmes effectively get the e mails to one much quicker. I set Outlook or Windows Mail to download my e mails every 5 minutes throughout the day and alert me when the mail arrives. With a web based programme such as Hotmail I would have to clock in to update the webpage about 90 times a day to receive the same service. This is unworkable.

I am not aware of any web-based service that automatically sends you e mails.

I also subcribe to a service that sends me an e mail when a share price reaches a given level. This would not work with web-based e mail.


Thunderbird and Agent both have auto access to download e-mails – Both are ‘free’ and better than IE. I used Agent since WWW was invented until recently when the new version Agent version wasn’t compatible with the old one. I changed to Thunderbird (as I also use Firefox ) which is better than the old Agent. The added advantage in the change is the auto spell-checking using the same dictionary for both Firefox and Thunderbird. I’ve used several others too – but Mozilla products are fast and versatile.

But unless one tries them to explore – the automatic response is to use the software supplied with the PC – which was why Microsoft did so. Remember Microsoft didn’t invent DOS just marketed it..

Peter Ford says:
27 April 2011

Fastmail’s web-based interface does include a ‘polling’ feature (although not for their free service) so you don’t have to keep on manually refreshing in your web browser.


I use both Outlook Express and Yahoo (webmail), but mainly use OE because it responds immediately and reliably. With Yahoo I sometimes have to wait for keystrokes to catch up, I’ve lost long draft e-mails and in the past I’ve found old mail stroed in the ‘sent’ folder simply blank! With OE, I can save to backup disk my address book and e-mails; organising my address book is also easier (tho’ not perfect) with OE. Both Yahoo and my isp provide more than adequate spam filters.