/ 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?

kulath says:
8 June 2014

Relying entirely on webmail is REALLY BAD ADVICE!

The problem is that you are totally vulnerable to all your emails disappearing one day, and there is absolutely noting you can do.

(1) Never forget Jack Schofield’s second laws of computing (data doesn’t really exist unless you have at least two copies of it). If you only have the data in your webmail account you only have one copy.

(2) Read Jack Schofield’s article about webmail Russian roulette http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2008/feb/14/email.yahoo. Sometimes the webmail provider may decide just to delete your account, either because of some obscure policy, or just because of some system failure on the part of the webmail provider. (You are not paying for the service, so you can’t expect any compensation, nor any great effort to retrieve you emails).

(3) Read this article: http://www.computerrepair.com/Tips-Tricks/Tips-Tricks/what-happens-when-your-webmail-gets-hacked.html about what happens if your account is hacked – you may never get it back! Especially read the last paragraph:

>Finally, how certain are you that you’re willing to trust your data to the online services in the cloud? I don’t leave any information online that doesn’t also exist on at least one local machine that gets backed up daily. Yes, it took a bit of effort to set up an automated backup routine, and it takes a bit of effort to swap out backup drives when they get filled up. But I can access my files and my mail even if I can’t access them online for any reason. Before you rely on Web-based services for data that you can’t manage without, keep in mind that the cloud doesn’t always have a silver lining.

Even if you think you have nothing valuable in your email, losing everything is very likely to be extremely inconvenient!


Webmail is fine in emergencies. However, compared with LiveMail (my client of choice) it is cumbersome, slow & very limited on functionality. The immediate advantage that LiveMail has, of course, is the ability to sync multiple accounts at once. On WebMail it is necessary to LogOut of one, then LogIn to another, etc., and when, like myself you use a multitude of different accounts it’s just not a realistic option. The same goes for eMail alerts for Calendar dates. Also, if I have read eMails from WebMail it still shows up on my LiveMail. If I’ve read it on LiveMail, it’s like it never existed on WebMail.

Ged McConville says:
26 November 2016

Some people do not want their information all over the internet and prefer to download their emails and work off line. Being FORCED to leave yourself wide open to hacking is an affront and those extolling the virtues of using webmail give me the impression that they are probably hackers and cannot be trusted.


If only it was hackers who were looking at your emails Ged , I have a long list of “others ” who do. For those wanting privacy get end to end encryption that upsets the government using a neutral states servers that doesnt hand info over to UK/US sources and doesnt know the second stage of a two-stage security system . I keep one handy in case of emergency . At the moment my ISP/ my email service ( American based+server ) has full access to my emails –must bore the hell out of them. I do have other email services including Russian , as things stand due to HMG rhetoric just waiting to be called “subversive” . Any email service without a virus control built in is asking for trouble.


Ged – I too prefer to download my emails, but they will also be on a server that could be hacked. Most email systems offer a webmail option so that you can access them from any computer.

Brian Hudson says:
2 December 2016

It’s right that I started using email clients in the days of expensive dial-up. If starting afresh now, I would probably use webmail. But switching is not straight forward because, over the years, I have built up a lot of folders (within Windows Live Mail) containing critical stuff (including legal, contractual etc) on behalf of various charities that I help. To lose all that would be an absolute disaster. But Which? advises that there are no webmail services which allow me to import all these old WLM folders. So looks like I’m stuck with WLM for then forseeable future.

Ray Coxon says:
4 October 2017

I still prefer Microsoft Outlook although my version, 2003, is now obsolete but it still works. Best thing about it is the spam filter , I can use Norton anti virus, unlike webmail – what spam filter do they use? As for my e-mail with my ISP – BT – the spam filter is a joke.


I was using Outlook 2011 to access email on an Exchange server. Following an upgrade of the server software, Outlook has stopped working though I can still use it to access email using a POP account.