I recently read an article detailing the different advantages of using webmail verses email applications. The article was originally posted at lifehacker.com and I believe based off a separate article posted at wired.com. Lets cover some basics before we continue.

NOTE: These are the basics and not 100% in every situation. There are ways to take advantage of each setup but this article will take the approach from a beginners point of view.

Web based viewing – Web based viewing is simply that. You use a web browser like Internet Explorer or Firefox and login to the email provider’s webpage to view, send, or delete your email. Often referred to as webmail examples of web based email include:

  • Microsoft’s Hotmail – http://www.hotmail.com
  • Yahoo – http://mail.yahoo.com
  • Google’s Gmail – http://mail.google.com
  • Cox Communications – http://webmail.west.cox.net

Advantage number one – webmail is usually free. Another advantage of web based email is the ability to “login” from any computer on the internet and access your mail. If you delete a message while accessing it at work the message will still be gone when you go home and check email later that evening. When you save an email to the “vacation” folder in your inbox you can access that vacation folder from any computer.

A disadvantage to using web based email is generally you can only check one email account at a time. Want to see if you got new Yahoo mail you have to login to Yahoo. Want to see if you got new Hotmail you’ll have to logout of Yahoo and login to Hotmail. Another disadvantage is your email isn’t really yours. If Yahoo closed up shop tomorrow and locked you out of your account you may not be able to retrieve all of those important emails you’ve saved up over the years.

Application based viewing

Application based viewing uses a software applications to access your email. Examples include Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla’s Thunderbird, Eudora and others.

Advantages of using software programs to view your email is they are usually pretty straight forward and easy to use. Your email can be easily arranged and organized often using “drag and drop” options to move items from folder to folder. Your email is actually stored locally. What I mean by that is when you start your email program it will automatically go out and check the email server for any new messages. If a new message is there it gets “pulled” down onto your local computer and saved. This is very helpful if you are “offline” like on an airplane or using your laptop where a WiFi signal may not be available. You can type your message, read the mail that has already been downloaded and do pretty much whatever you want and the results will carried out the next time you connect to the internet.

Another great advantage is the ability to have the program access multiple email accounts. You can have one email be delivered to one folder, another email to a different folder and so on and so on. All the messages are downloaded and saved on your local computer to access whenever you need.

There are a few disadvantages to using a software based email viewer. The first disadvantage is cost. Thunderbird is still a freebie but Outlook will cost you up to $100. Another disadvantage is the requirement to use one computer to access your email. Use Outlook at work to read an email and when you get home the email is still on Outlook back at work. If your computer with Outlook crashes your email and more importantly all of your old saved email is out of service.

My Vote

My preference is to use webmail over software based email systems. Having used Yahoo and Google for email for nearly a decade I can remember maybe two times email was unavailable during that period. I think even then the downtime was something I read about later and didn’t experience first hand.

My mother, father, mother-in-law and it seems like everyone else in their generation appear to use Outlook or some other email program. I think this is mostly because they use one and only one computer to access email. With work, home and my phone I check email from several different locations several times a day. Having email in one location only is not an option.