/ 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.

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.

Miss Andrea Borman says:
10 March 2011

I have tried Outlook Express and SeaMonkey Mail,Windows Live Mail and others,that are basically clones of Outlook Express as they are modeled on it. But I could not use any of these emails at all. It asked me for my incoming http. or POP server, I don’t know that and then it asked for my outgoing http. or POP server and I don’t know that either.And there was no way of finding out either. So I could not even set these email clients-if you could call them that,up. Outlook Express and it’s clones of it,Thunderbird etc are supposed to let you send email to all networks Google,yahoo Mail. But we can’t because we cannot use them. Due to the impossible questions they ask that we cannot answer,what is out incoming and outgoing http. or POP server. I and most other people just do not know this answer With normal email Hotmail for example at least you know how to use it and I use Instantbird which is a chat messenger like Pidgin and it only asks for my user name if for example I want to connect my Aim account and my password. And that is enough. I think they should re name Outlook Express and it’s clones,SeaMonkey mail etc-THE EMAIL THAT NOBODY CAN USE. Well it is is it not? Andrea Borman..

You simply need to ask your Internet supplier for the information (though the info is usually in the e-mail programme you are using – It was used when your computer was first set up for e-mail usually.

In fact all the info was in the letter my ISP (Internet Service Provider) sent me when I first set it up.

Miss.Andrea Borman. says:
9 April 2011

But the email clients are just too complicated to use. Outlook Express and the other email clients asked what me for my incoming POP server-I don’t know that. Then it asked for my outgoing SMTP server and port numbers-I don’t know that. And none of my friends could find out either. And even when I went onto the Google and the website said it was-pop.gmail.com for both the incoming and outgoing servers,which I don’t even know what these are. It still would not work. So that is why I use Instantbird which is like Pidgin and Aim Messenger, because they just want your email address or user name and pasword,to connect each account. So you cannot go wrong with that.So that is what I use. Andrea Borman.

Rustum says:
26 April 2011

I have helped a voluntary organisation in the past that needed to send both individual and mas emails to its members dealing with matters such as subscription renewal and newsletters. I find the arguments in favour of a web based email system persuasive but only for simple personal use. I have not yet found a way that you could send emails directly from a database via a web-based account but with Outlook (not Express) it is possible to use macros to generate an up to date mailing list in the database and transfer this to an Outlook message or generate individual Outlook messages according to criteria such as an expired payment renewal date. I can also have conditional text in the message to cater for varying forms of address and so on. As far as I am aware none of this is possible with webmail. Unless someone can tell me another way to do it, the answer seems to be to have Outlook as the client on Windows based PCs but linked to a the ISPs mail servers using the IMAP protocol so that all the mail is held on the server but synchronised with all the PCs, mobiles, netbooks, Ipads and whatever which may be used to access mail. Or am I missing something?

Miss.Andrea Borman. says:
26 April 2011

Well,you just cannot use Outlook Express or any of those email clients. As my friend said about Outlook Express and clones,Thunderbird,SeaMonkey Mail,Spicebird,Zimbra Desktop and Windows Mail and others-“You can’t use it it won’t let you use it.” And “It doesn’t allow itself to be used.” Well it doesn’t doesn’t it,because of the system they have. Of asking for your pop server and SMTP server which I and other people do not know. And even when you give the answer they want,the email clients still do not work. So they really are-THE EMAIL THAT NOBODY CAN USE. And the only outcome will be that YOU won’t be able to use it either. Andrea Borman.

I use Mozilla Thunderbird (and before that on Mozilla suite email on OS/2) attached to my Talktalk ISP account which also send mail to my HTC Desire. Thunderbird has spellcheck and spam filtering and excellent message (or content) search facility. I use Dragon speech recognition to dictate my emails.
Why would I want to use webmail!.

It seems to me that this article is completely irrelevant. Every comment posted that I have read so far is saying that it is far better to use Outlook/ or Express than to put your emails on to ephemeral sites which are painful to access.I personally find hotmail and gmail to be a pain.

MikeB says:
26 April 2011

Ask most Outlook users why they still use it and you’re unlikely to get an answer based on logic. A previous poster said that the article is completely irrelevant – I think it’s Outlook that’s irrelevant, not the article!

John Underwood says:
26 April 2011

I use Microsoft Outlook for my main email account because I frequently end up dealing with emails offline (on a train or a long car journey… though only when somebody else is driving!). Am I missing something here? Is there any way of downloading emails from a gmail account to be dealt with offline?

JohnN says:
26 April 2011

Agree. When I am abroad, I can take my laptop somewhere where I can have online access and upload/download emails and then take laptop to wherever I am staying. As far as I can ascertain, dongles for accessing internet from laptop can be very expensive in many countries.

MikeB says:
26 April 2011

Using gmail offline .. Can’t comment how good this feature is though, as I’ve never used it!

Murram says:
26 April 2011

I used Outlook for my e-mail at work and Outlook Express at home, because it is similar and therefore I was familiar with how it operated. When I retired I lost both Outlook and my alternative e-mail address, so to avoid just having one address I obtained a Hotmail address.
I get less e-mails than I used to and tend to use Outlook Express as my main system, so I only log on to my Hotmail account occasionally. However it seems that each time I log on they have “improved” it, the layout has changed and I cannot find anything. Perhaps if I used it more I would be able to cope with the changes, but I cannot be bothered to do this so I stick with the old system. It works fine as far as I am concerned and I do not understand why there is a need to keep “improving”.
I gather that Outlook Express is not supplied with Windows 7 and this is a good reason for me to not want to upgrade to it. If it is not broke, don’t fix it!

Vijay Raithatha says:
26 April 2011

I have used MS-Outlook for over 10 years and currently operate 3 accounts – a business email, personal email and my hotmail account through one Outlook profile (PLUS calendars, notes and tasks). I also have another Outlook profile for emails and calendar management for one of my clients (these use a separate range of sign-in protocol and folders).

I cannot possibly envisage a structured business or personal life without the benefit of Outlook’s Calendar function.

And I can access all of these accounts (email and calendar) using my Blackberry. Configuration is easy (especially on the blackberry but also on Outlook) – most email hosts’s helpdesks and FAQs detail the information required by Outlook for POP/IMAP etc.

On my travels these days, I only occasionally need to use webmail IF I can’t get access to wi-fi on my Blackberry in a hurry (can’t remember the last time that happened!).

And as stated by others, you can set up rules and actions so that your emails are continually archived or deleted. It is not rocket science to work out where and how PST files are stored and these can be stored in specific folders so that you can choose to back them up if you wish.

My business emails are stored on a folder that is backed-up to dropbox. I do have one cheeky method of file storage though (so that I don’t exceed my dropbox storage limit) – I transfer my personal emails (on my personal non-hotmail account) to my Hotmail account using Outlook for free storage, knowing I can access these emails whenever I wish from my webmail hotmail account …

Long live Outlook.

I’ve used Outlook for over a decade. I have gigabytes of mail which I suspect no webmail service would want to keep for me and which I want to keep. Outlook regularly fetches mail from all my accounts into one place for me – no need to visit different webmail sites manually. It’s simple to set up and use. If I’m away from my PC I simply use the webmail facility that my ISP provides to deal with anything I need to deal with. I run all my postal mailings from my Outlook contacts list, etc etc etc. Backing up is no issue – you have to do that anyway if you have a PC so just add your Outlook folder to the back-up – simples! If you use email seriously, forget fads (and Outlook Express) – use something professional.

Terry P says:
26 April 2011

I use my Gmail account via Outlook 2010 because Outlook has sub-directories, which Gmail doesn’t have. Subjects can be broken down into several categories which enables filed messages easy to locate. The last time I contacted Gmail about sub-directories I ******** there were no immediate plans to provide these.

Peter Ford says:
27 April 2011

In theory labels can do everything sub-directories can do, and more. For example if you wanted to simulate sub-directories you could have these 3 labels “work-internal”, “work-clients-Kellogs”, “work-clients-Heinz”. It’d just be a matter of how you used such a system. Another option to consider would be the “Nested Labels” feature from the Gmail ‘labs’.

In practice, some people need simple sub-directories and nothing more – in which case Gmail is probably not for them. (But do other webmail providers offer sub-directories? Yahoo doesn’t. Fastmail does. I’m not sure about any others.)

End of conversation?