Is Webmail Better?
I'm thinking about switching from Outlook Express to a webmail service. What are the trade-offs? Are some better than others? Is webmail secure?
Webmail vs. Desktop Email
If you've been using Outlook Express, Thunderbird, Lotus Notes or some other desktop email software to manage your email, you might want to consider a web-based email (webmail) solution. As the name implies, webmail is a way to send, receive and manage your email via the Web. Instead of using traditional email software that resides on your computer, you go to a website, login, and handle all your email tasks via your browser.
Webmail is secure and offers everything you'd expect in a desktop email client, such as an address book, customized folders, spell check and filtering (rules). But there are trade-offs between webmail and desktop-based mail, so let's look at the pro's and con's to help you decide which is best for you.
With webmail, there's no software to install or maintain -- everything happens inside your web browser. So if there's no email software running on your computer, that eliminates one possible source of spyware and virus attacks. Webmail can also save space on your hard drive, since all your email folders are stored online, courtesy of your webmail provider. And there's nothing to backup, since your email is stored on a remote server.
But there are two other advantages of webmail, which I find very compelling. Webmail frees you from your Internet Service Provider. Many people would like to switch to another ISP, but they don't want to lose their email address. With webmail, your email is completely independent of your ISP... you can choose a new Internet provider and keep your webmail address. But my favorite reason for using webmail is that you can access it from any computer in the world with an Internet connection. You're no longer tied to a specific email program on your home computer. With webmail, you can check or send email at the library, the coffee shop, a hotel, or a friend's house.
Of course, the most obvious disadvantage of using web-based email is that you must be online to use it. If you have a dialup connection, that limits you somewhat, since you can't download all your mail, disconnect, and then read messages or compose replies offline. Some webmail providers do allow you to connect to your account with a POP3 (regular desktop) email client, but then you have to find a way to keep the online and offline mail folders in sync.
Also, webmail doesn't typically have niceties such as stationery, email templates, a dictionary and fancy formatting features. And this might sound strange, but one of the drawbacks of free web-based email is that it's free. And because it's free, you get what you pay for in terms of storage limits and availability. And if your webmail provider suddenly went out of business, you'd be stuck.
Here's a rundown on the offerings of the three most popular webmail providers. Hotmail, hosted by Microsoft, offers a maximum of 1GB of storage and a maximum attachment size of 10MB. For an additional fee of US$19.95 a year, you can raise your storage limits to 4GB with a 20MB attachment size. Yahoo Mail provides 1GB storage and 10MB attachments. You can upgrade to 2GB and 20MB for attachments for US$19.99 per year. Google's GMail service offers 2.8GB (and rising) of storage and 10MB attachments.
Hotmail, Yahoo and Gmail are all excellent webmail services. My favorite is Gmail because it offers the most free storage, has excellent built-in spam filters, does forwarding, and has an integrated chat feature. It also has a very powerful search facility, which allows you to search your emails by subject, sender, date or any keyword in the text of a message.
Webmail may not be ideal for dialup users, but it's easy to use, easily accessible, and has centralised maintenance and backup. It provides autonomy from your ISP and your desktop, giving you access to your email from anywhere. Do you use a webmail service that's not one of the "Big Three" mentioned above? If so, tell me why you like it better.
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 10 Apr 2007
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Is Webmail Better? (Posted: 10 Apr 2007)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved