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Advantages of webmail – web based email

I was having a discussion with my neighbour – a good friend. Both of us have email accounts from the same ISP. She uses Outlook Express to download messages while I prefer webmail. Which one of us is ‘more correct’, if you know what I mean? Could you tell me the advantages of webmail over Outlook Express?
Janet Murphy

As you would probably know, there are two popular ways to access email – through webmail (interface) and with email clients. I suppose webmail is an easier approach because one doesn’t need to install and learn to use additional software; you can open your email account with a web browser and an internet connection (of course)… but does this mean webmail better? Hmm.

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There are some great advantages of using email programs such as Outlook Express too! So if were to get into a friendly argument with someone, you need to run through all the advantages of webmail (or web based email) to win your case.

FYI, the term webmail is also used to refer to email accounts provided by services like Hotmail, Yahoo or Gmail. I believe the popularity of email is because of such web based services that brought it to the masses. If email was available only to a lucky few, it would have died quickly like the Iridium phone.

Which is better – Webmail or email client?

It’s not easy to say which approach – webmail or email client – is better for accessing email accounts. Why? Because it’s like comparing apples with oranges. It all depends on how you want to use the email account. For instance, if you are a frequently away from your computer, webmail is definitely a better option. It’s all about what fits your needs and how you feel comfortable. By the way, you can access the same email account with both webmail and an email program which might be the best solution for some people – check the end of this page for details.

Webmail advantages

Anyway, here are some advantages of webmail that I came up with.

  • Universality: There are many different types of email accounts and not all can be accessed via email programs… at least, not for free. Email clients connect to the account on the server using email protocols such as POP or IMAP. If these are not enabled, the program will not be able to access the messages. A case in point is the free Yahoo!Mail account. Popular email clients such as Outlook Express, Windows Live Mail or Thunderbird, cannot download emails from Yahoo! because POP3 is deactivated. You can, however, pay about $20 yearly to avail this facility.
    All free accounts from Gmail are POP3 and IMAP enabled. Free POP access for Hotmail is also now available.
  • Ease of access: Webmail lets you check your email from any computer anywhere in the world. You only need a web browser program and a live internet connection.
    This also means that without an active internet connection you would not be able to access your email account (big disadvantage of webmail).
  • No additional software needed: Checking your email account through a webmail interface requires only the web browser program and there are tons of these available – check the web browser list. Also, most webmail interfaces would look almost the same in different browsers which makes it easy for beginners to access email from another computer.
  • Gentler learning curve: In my opinion (and I say this with experience), it’s easier to learn to use email through a webmail interface than a dedicated email client. Don’t agree with me? Try teaching a 7 year old.
  • Customizable and prettier: Nowadays, with the launch of themes, webmail interfaces are highly customizable and definitely prettier than email clients. Refer Gmail themes and Hotmail themes for more information.
  • No need to own a computer: Since webmail accounts can be used from any computer, you don’t need to own a machine yourself. This is such a boon for citizens of underdeveloped countries who can take the advantage of the new communications technology without buying expensive equipment.
  • Updates and addition of new features: Webmail interface and features can be modified and tested faster than those in email programs. If you use a Gmail account, you probably know of the new features that are being added continually to your account through the Gmail Labs. Also all these modifications and additions require little or no input from your side. Thus, there is often no need to download an upgrade and then install it!
  • Storage space: People who use email programs may argue that the constrain of storage space for messages and attachments is a disadvantage of webmail. This is no longer true as Yahoo provides unlimited storage space on their email accounts. And if you are close to filling up the space on Hotmail or Gmail, upgrade by paying a nominal annual charge.

Using webmail and email clients together

You can use both the webmail interface and an email client to access the same email account – I know of a few people who do this. The only thing one needs to take care of is not to have the messages deleted from the server once they have been downloaded by the email program. This option is, typically, found under the email account settings in the program.

For example, to configure Outlook Express, Windows Mail and Windows Live Mail, the default email clients of Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7, respectively; follow the steps below:

  • Click “Tools” -> “Accounts” to get the list of email accounts configured in the client.
  • Select the email account you want to modify and hit the “Properties” button.
  • Move to the “Advanced” tab and check “Leave a copy of messages on server“. You may also think of checking “Remove from server when deleted from ‘Deleted Items’” – I leave the choice to you. Please refer the screenshot below.
    Keep a copy of the email on the server
  • Click “Apply” followed by “OK“.

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