Webmail Or Email Client. Which Is Better?

Outlook, Thunderbird, Geary or webmail? How do you access your emails?

In the past I have used many different applications for accessing emails, some of which are named above, and some others include Outlook Web Access (OWA) and even command line. There are many email applications out there, but with the rise of web technologies like HTML 5 “internet apps” are becoming more and more complex. This in turn is making our webmail experience almost as good as locally installed apps.

But which is better?

Well, that’s all a matter of opinion really. There are many factors which you need to take into account when deciding whether to use a local application like Thunderbird or webmail apps like Gmail, Yahoo! Mail or Round Cube. So what are these factors which influence our decision?

Some of the questions you should be asking yourselves are:

  • Where do I need to access my email? If you only need to access your email from one location and that will never change then it may be better to use a local application. However, if you have a requirement to access your mail from multiple locations or even public computers then webmail may be the way to go.
  • How many email accounts do I have? Web apps only usually handle one mailbox, you can set things like POP collection or email forwarding up but this isn’t the same as accessing two separate mailboxes using only one window. This is possible to do in webmail, but it can be very confusing if you don’t know what you’re doing. If you need to access more than one mailbox and keep them separate then I would suggest a local application.
  • What about calendars and contacts? Well, this isn’t really a problem any more. In the past if you needed tight integration with your calendars and/or contact management then a local application like Outlook or Thunderbird was definitely the way to go. But now that systems like Google Calendar and Google Contacts are commonplace on most email providers like Gmail, Yahoo! or Outlook online (formally Hotmail), they give this tight integration to your mailbox right out the box so this argument doesn’t really apply any more. You will get access these services either way.

Gmail Interface

There are also other things to take into account like which email protocol to use. For example, if you use POP this would mean that all mail would only exist on your machine as it is downloaded whenever your machine checks for new mail. So, if you don’t backup and your machine goes kaput then you will lose all of your mail.

The alternative is IMAP, which is different because it allows you to ‘sync’ your local mailbox with your email server so you can use both a local application and also webmail concurrently. I would always recommend IMAP over POP. There are obviously other protocols like Exchange but these are proprietary and won’t be available to you with most email accounts, especially the free ones like Gmail and Yahoo!

Thunderbird Interface

So which is the best? Well, for my needs it’s webmail. I use Gmail but I am an advanced user, so I have my one Google Apps account that collects both my personal and RefuGeeks emails and it then sorts them automatically so I know which is which. I can also send from either address within the same Gmail window. This setup gives me the flexibility to access my emails from any computer with a browser installed. I also of course have my email synced to my Android devices.

NOTE: As I mentioned before, I am an advanced user of Gmail so I know their services really well. I wouldn’t recommend attempting this kind of setup unless you know exactly what you are doing.

With the advent on HTML 5 I think that in a few years this argument will ultimately be null and void as web apps are getting stronger and more advanced all the time. So there may not even be a requirement for locally installed application in the future. You only have to look at the Chromebook to see proof of this.


Well, my answer is somewhat of a cop out really. As the best way of accessing your email depends solely on what your requirements are. With a little know how you can get the vast majority of the functionality that a local application can offer through webmail. This kind of setup also has some distinct advantages like flexibility.

What are you using to check your emails and why? Tell us more in the comments section below…

Webmail Or Email Client. Which Is Better?
User Rating: 4.6 (1 votes)
  • Yop Spanjers

    Gmail just works great! On the browser but also the android app is fantastic. And it’s really easy to import mail from other accounts.

  • http://blog.writethat.name/ Brad Patterson @ Kwaga

    Have to admit: I was expecting a bit more of an argument, or a few points of the value of a desktop client… but in the end, I don’t disagree one bit. ;-)

    Like many geeky professionals these days, I’ve been through yahoo/hotmail/gmail and thunderbird and outlook (and most recently sparrow). Hands down, gmail is the winner for it’s UI and UX, especially with all of the innovation going around the platform with 3rd-party solutions.


    • http://www.refugeeks.com/ Kev Quirk

      As I said in the summary, it was a bit of a cop out but ultimately neither is ‘best’ it’s all depends on what your requirements are. :)

      But unofficially I think we all know that Gmail is the best. :D

  • Samantha

    It would have been nice for you to cover security issues here. One
    big point against webmail is that it’s online any one who hacks your
    account can see your old msgs. However, even within webmail, consider
    that Hotmail deletes msgs by default immediately but Gmail holds on to
    them for 30 days. If you want to keep your email server clean, Hotmail
    is better for you.

    Within the rich client world, some
    are clearly more security conscious than others. For example, TrulyMail
    does much more to protect privacy that Thunderbird (or outlook for that

    Consider all the hacking news over the past few years, I would think any comparison would include more insights on security and privacy.

    • http://www.refugeeks.com/ Kev Quirk

      I would actually argue that Webmail is more secure as you will need at least a password to see any messages and even more so is you have 2-factor auth enabled (which Hotmail doesn’t offer by the way). Besides, even if you use a local app like Tbird or Outlook, the likelihood is that the messages still exist on the mail server at the back end. Both Gmail and Hotmail/Oulook resolve their MX records to IMAP servers so that mail is always on the server also when you setup your mailbox in a local app. So this kind of nullifies your argument.

      Security is also covered extensively on RefuGeeks, articles about 2-factor authentication, complex password and password managers are all over our archives. Here are some to get your started if you’re interested: http://refugeeks.com/RefuGeeks/tag/security/

      So you see, the subject of security doesn’t really hold water and I didn’t feel it necessary to overly complicate the article. I haven’t even bothered mentioning the fact that both Gmail and Hotmail/Outlook use TLS/SSL by default and their web interfaces are HTTPS (encrypted) so again this isn’t an overwhelming security threat with one over the other.

      Thanks for your comment though. :)

  • tropicaltech

    Mailbird is great if you are on Windows – I sync up my gmail, outlook.com, yahoo, unoeuro and meebox accounts in there. It’s perfect – I can manage all of it in one place. Also there are tons of great apps that we use at work that are integrated in Mailbird like Dropbox, Evernote, Asana, Calenders, Veeting Rooms, Appear.In, Unroll.Me etc.

  • Alfred Beronio

    If POP is not recommended bcause you delete the messages from the server then why have I been able to use Outlook Express since 1999 (until Win10 forced me out of it) and it never, ever deleted messages from the server?