See Computer Basics & Terminology for help with technical terms.
Stand-alone Email Clients
A stand-alone email client is a program on your computer that stores downloaded messages on your own computer.
Email has changed since [the 1970s], but not much. Most of what's changed in the last 45 years is email clients — the software we use to access email. They've clumsily bolted on new functionality onto the old email, without fixing any of the underlying protocols to support that functionality. — The Atlantic
Unfortunately, many desktop email clients are slowing or stopping development. The pickings are getting pretty slim.
However, in the intervening years many if not most businesses and consumers have switched to webmail of some variety. Many also now use instant messaging and collaboration platforms instead of email. — ZDNet
You Need Archive Capabilities
I strongly recommend a stand-alone email client for your primary form of email communication, particularly you need to keep copies of important messages over the long term.
That way you can archive your mail on your computer without having to pay for increased storage or suddenly finding out that you've lost all access to your mail if your ISP goes out of business or changes their email hosting service.
Many of us remember “@Home” email addresses that were used all across North America but later failed.
Recommended Email Clients
I recommend the following stand-alone products:
- The Bat for high volume users and those wishing more control over their email.
- Thunderbird for home users looking for a free alternative to webmail.
- Postbox for those looking for a simpler email program but with more features than Thunderbird.
The Bat! — High Volume Users
The best secure email client software. Continuously improving since 1998.
The Bat! Professional (US$59.99) and Home (US$49.95) are both flexible, secure email programs and highly recommended for advanced users requiring more customization and handling of their email. It has an internal HTML viewer (for security), advanced message handling, OpenPGP encryption and more.
Upgrades from one major version to the other are discounted (see the Buy The Bat! Upgrade section on the purchase page).
The Bat! is certified for Windows 10 but can also be installed on previous versions, starting from Windows XP. There are no minimum requirements for memory size or CPU speed. It runs on any Windows PC desktop and tablet platform.
- Security and a speed boost are two of the benefits of running the 64-bit version of The Bat! (released with version 6.7.20).
- The license agreement allows a individual user to install multiple copies provided only one is active at a time (e.g. on your desktop and laptop). Corporate users need to obtain a site license and the rules are different.
- Screen shots of the mail interface, message editor window, sorting office and address book.
- Differences between the Home and the Professional Edition.
- The Bat! Voyager provides secure portable email via a USB drive. Free with The Bat! Professional Edition.
- The Bat! Tips and Tricks provides a quick link to using features.
The Bat! it is not vulnerable to many of the exploits that affect Microsoft Outlook such as the VCF zero-day exploit or Microsoft Outlook Information Disclosure Vulnerability (CVE-2019-0559).
Support for Microsoft Exchange Web Services
Beginning with version 7, The Bat supports the Exchange Web Services (EWS) protocol. This makes The Bat! a secure, customizable and cost effective email client alternative to MS Outlook.
Automated Message Handling
I am particularly impressed with the level of automated message handling. In fact there are so many features that it has taken me some time to learn to use them (and how to configure them) but when enacted they provide powerful tools for organizing and handling your mail. For example:
- The Sorting Office provides for filters and can be set up as general or separately for individual accounts.
- Folders can be configured to auto-delete messages based upon the age (e.g. a price list that updates weekly) or by number of messages (to avoid overloading your computer's system).
- You can limit the size of the messages that are downloaded (retrieving only the headings for larger messages) such as on your laptop where you don't need the full message and want to save space on your hard drive.
- The Bat! blocks external images by default, but controls image display on a per-sender basis, listing the image sources and allowing you to accept images from all the related sources or simply allow them for the sender's domain or on a one-time basis.
- The Bat! provides for better HTML-based templates for New Message, Reply and Forward for each account and can be configured for Confirmation messages to put in Outbox, Send immediately, Edit or Ignore (I use Ignore to disallow a reading confirmation receipt).
- The Bat! has a mailbox analyzer that will look for consistencies in email and automatically create new folders and filters for larger volume senders.
One weakness in The Bat! is spam control. There are various third-party addins, but you'll need to experiment to see what works for you.
I purchased AntispamSniper for The Bat! (US$19.95) following the trial period.
Some of the others added “*SPAM*” to the subject line which is annoying for false positives as it wasn't easy to remove (AntispamSniper removed these tags).
AntispamSniper's Articles can help with blocking PDF spam, phishing scams and effective filtering rules.
Editing Subject Line Cumbersome
I've not determined an easy way to manually remove this added “*SPAM*” text (or edit a non-descriptive or unhelpful subject line). One work-around: drag the message to the Outbox, edit it, then drag it back.
Use Internal HTML Viewer
I strongly recommend that you configure The Bat! to use its own HTML viewer rather than the newer option to use the system's viewer (Internet Explorer) for security reasons.
Look in Options ⇒ Preferences ⇒ Viewer/Editor ⇒ HTML Viewer and select “Use The Bat!'s HTML viewer” and change the External images download control to “According to The Bat! rules.”
Beginning with version 8.08, the 32-bit version of The Bat! now works even under very old computers with CPUs that don't support MMX instruction set. In this case, FPU is used to copy data.
Thunderbird — Low Volume Users
Thunderbird (free) is a powerful, yet easy to use, stand-alone email program that works great in conjunction with the Firefox browser.
Thunderbird works great for many home users those with simpler demands. It automatically sets up for Gmail and other such cloud-based email so you don't have to log onto via your browser to view and send your mail and will allow you to archive messages in separate folders for long-term storage independent of the server.
Mozilla Thunderbird is being actively developed and is available directly from Thunderbird.net. System requirements and other available options are linked beneath the main download button.
- Thunderbird download, install and migration.
- Help Topics including Tips and tricks.
- Privacy and security settings protect your privacy and personal information.
- Get Thunderbird addons | Install/use another language.
- MozillaZine has archived articles related to Thunderbird.
- MozBackup backs up Mozilla profiles but is no longer developed.
See Moving Thunderbird data to a new computer.
Thunderbird is not recommended for those with high email volumes including business users.
- Postbox is closer to Thunderbird because it is based upon it.
- The Bat! is extremely flexible and powerful. It supports the Exchange Web Services (EWS) protocol and doesn't have the vulnerabilities that Outlook suffers from.
EFAIL Encryption Issue
Thunderbird suffers from the EFAIL encryption vulnerability. Upgrading Thunderbird fixes the issue.
Postbox — Professional Users
Postbox (US$29.99 per year) is a powerful email program for Windows 8 and 10, and macOS 10.13 and higher which has great features including integration with Dropbox, social media, Gmail and Google Calendar.
Postbox has switched to a yearly subscription model. At $30 a year, it's not expensive for business professionals and it's worth the price. (Those who purchased an earlier version of Postbox that came with lifetime updates get this and future versions at no cost.) For home users, however, the long-term cost might be too high relative to the value they get if they don't rely on Postbox's more advanced features. — Macworld
Postbox licenses are per user, so one license will cover any/all machine(s) you personally use, Mac or PC. — Postbox
- Windows and Mac versions both licensed on a per-user basis, so one license will cover any/all machine(s) you personally use, Mac or Windows.
- Volume discounts start at only 2 licenses. License agreement.
- Getting Started. Version 7 features. Support.
- View the blog for news, updates and hints. Postbox on Twitter.
Alternative Email Clients
Wikipedia's comparison of email clients gives a good overview of the broad range of email clients including their release history plus what operating systems, protocols and authentication methods they support. Most refer to Wikipedia pages with additional information about that specific program.
- Opera Mail (free) is a lightweight, customizable mail client.
- Current Windows versions are supported.
- Opera Mail used to be included as part of the Opera browser, but is now a separate install.
- The Opera mail tutorial provides help in mastering this program's features.
- Becky! Internet Mail (US$40.00) has numerous features.
- Current Windows versions are supported.
- You can create not only multiple mailboxes but also create multiple profiles for each mailbox — very flexible mailbox management for people with multiple email accounts.
- The Beckymail! Yahoo! support group proved to be very responsive and helpful.
- My main concern is that it uses Internet Explorer to display HTML messages — something that even Outlook no longer does because of the security vulnerabilities (see my assessment of Internet Explorer).
Older Email Programs Unsuitable
If a program is not currently maintained it runs the risk of not protecting you against new exploits. As well, it is unlikely to support the newer and more secure email retrieval protocols now used by ISPs.
Pocomail and Barca were my earlier choices for a robust email program for people and businesses with heavier demands. These programs may still work, even on Windows 10, but development has ceased (the last update was released in 2009) and there are configuration issues, particularly in 64-bit Windows.
I strongly recommend that you stop using these obsolete email programs.
Microsoft Outlook is routinely used by business and governments, particularly in large corporate environments where capabilities for inter-office communication and project coordination are necessary.
Outlook was originally not as widely used by consumers because it is both complex and designed for large office environments. However, Microsoft has included it with many Office products and more recently has promoted it for online sharing using free iOS and Android applications.
Outlook is Vulnerable
Researchers at Menlo Security dug further into the connection between Microsoft Office documents and cybercrime. They found attackers are increasingly using malicious Office docs for endpoint exploitation but instead of attaching files packed with malicious macros, they use Office docs to call remotely hosted malicious components, launching exploits in the browser. — Dark Reading
Outlook also suffers from a DDE vulnerability where
attacks can take place via email and corrupt Word, Excel, Publisher and Outlook documents.
While Office 365 is fast becoming the de facto standard for cloud-based application services, securing its email capabilities requires additional services. While Office 365 email security and Microsoft's add-on subscription services may be “good enough,” is “good enough” security really good enough? — Menlo Security Labs
I Don't Support Outlook
If you decide to move to Outlook, be aware that I neither use nor recommend Outlook and therefore cannot provide the level of support I can with my recommended email programs. It has given me more than its share of headaches and has left a bad taste in my mouth.
I strongly recommend The Bat! Professional as a more secure alternative that supports many of the Outlook features including Microsoft Exchange Web Services without many of the built-in vulnerabilities suffered by Outlook (just have a look at some of the examples in Ritlabs' News).
Thunderbird now supports the Microsoft Exchange protocol as of version 60.5.0 via a third-party add-on (Owl) which supports that protocol (automatically detected during account creation).
Finding Alternative Outlook Support
If you're tied into an organization or office that uses Outlook and you're familiar with that program, be sure to verify that you'll have help when problems arise.
- Be sure to use a currently-supported version of Outlook (one that continues to see updates from Microsoft).
- Home users seldom need or can use the elements demanded of Office in these environments unless they are tied into them.
- Microsoft's tight integration between their products generates security vulnerabilities that can transfer between Microsoft products and into Windows itself (and vice versa).
- In corporate environments, server backups of key files, sophisticated firewall systems and other measures can minimize these risks, but this is more difficult for home users to emulate.
- Recovery from a computer crash can be a nightmare without a current backup of the Outlook.pst file.
- Safe PST Backup Free Edition will automatically back these files up.
- See Microsoft's How to automatically back up your personal folders file in Outlook.
Winmail.dat Issues? Don't Blame the Recipient
Invisible (to Outlook users), winmail.dat attachments are generated by Outlook and other Microsoft products but affect only third-party email programs.
There may be issues with licensing and user rights:
- Microsoft is moving towards Outlook.com and Office 365 to compete with Google Docs and Gmail.
- InfoWorld described Outlook 2013 license terms as
- While Office 365 offers use on multiple computers (including on Macs) it requires an annual fee and the default storage is in the cloud, NOT on your computer.
- A monthly or annual fee (like Adobe's Creative Cloud) is attractive to the bean counters. Microsoft, like Adobe, could stop offering a stand-alone product at any time.
Other Outlook Resources
I've listed some resources for help with Outlook including how to back it up, moving to or from Outlook and other helpful information.
DreamMail (free) is a powerful stand-alone email program designed to handle multi-user and multiple email accounts.
- Originating in China, the English version is available through the DreamMail European Community for Windows XP/Vista/7. Support by this community is no longer available.
- DreamMail appears to be very powerful and may provide options that are harder to implement in Thunderbird for demanding users.
- There are concerns about the privacy and safety of user data. In 2013 Exploit Database reported a persistent cross-site scripting vulnerability.
Obsolete Email Programs
Don't Use Unsupported Software
Programs where development and maintenance updates have ended are not recommended. Such programs put your computer and data at risk and are no longer safe to use. They should be uninstalled.
- Windows Mail (part of Windows Vista) is no longer supported.
- Windows Live Mail (part of Windows Essentials) is no longer supported.
- Pocomail and Barca are unsupported (last updated 2009).
- Outlook Express support expired with Windows XP.
- Eudora classic is no longer supported. Eudora OSE was deprecated in 2013.
The following resources have information about importing mail from obsolete email programs:
- Switching to Thunderbird has instructions on importing from Windows Mail (Vista), Windows Live Mail, Outlook Express and Eudora.
- Aid4Mail MBOX Converter is a free solution that supports Thunderbird, Outlook Express, Eudora, Apple Mail and more.
- Pocomail and Barca can natively export address books in a number of formats but only exports mail to outdated RFC822 formats so you'll need to use one of the third-party programs. See Exporting PocoMail's mail, contacts and settings.