The word on email programs


By Matt Bentley

What constitutes a good email program?

Well, partially that it’s not made by Microsoft, for starters. I know a lot of people use Outlook, and I’m not against it, necessarily, but there are so many problems associated with that program I’d need an entire chapter of a book just to explain them. Let’s just say it has some technical issues and each version introduces more features and faults.

But other than that caveat, how do you even judge this? Well, inter-operating system compatibility i.e. being able to use the same program on different computers is a big thing. ‘Cause your computer is going to die.

I mean, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but at some point. Then you’re going to need to get all those address book details and folders you made of emails onto another computer. Guess what! The built-in mail programs that Microsoft provides with it’s operating systems don’t do that.

You can’t use Vista’s “Windows Mail” on Windows 7, and Microsoft are trying to stop you using “Windows Live Mail” on Windows 10 (it is still possible to do so). It’s not quite so bad on Mac, as in most cases you can transfer your mail data from one computer to another without a lot of hassle, provided the old computer isn’t too out of date.

All of this doesn’t matter so much if you’re using IMAP. What is IMAP?

Well, there’s two main email standards, POP and IMAP. I’d explain to you what the acronyms mean, but let’s face it, you don’t care and neither do I! The central thing to remember is that IMAP is a reflection of what’s stored on your email server, whereas POP downloads your emails to your computer and then (in most cases) deletes them from the email server. So if you’re using a POP account (as most xtra email addresses do) and your computer dies, and you haven’t backed up, you lose those emails permanently.

If you use IMAP (like all Gmail email addresses do) and your computer dies, it’s no big loss as all your emails are still on the server and you can access them on another computer; no sweat!

Most people use IMAP nowadays as it’s easier to work with across multiple devices, but POP can be more handy in other respects. So if you’re using POP, make sure your backup routine (whatever it is) also backs up your email data, in case your computer goes down at some point in the future. But returning to the topic, backing up your email data won’t help if you can’t get the same email program on a new computer.

Thunderbird is an open-source and free email program

That’s why I recommend Thunderbird. Thunderbird is an open-source and free email program which is very stable and compatible across a wide range of operating systems, including Mac, Linux and Windows. That means you can transfer your data not only between computers, but between different types of computers as well. Of course, a lot of people check their email on their phone too nowadays (not me) and Thunderbird doesn’t exist on any mobile platform. But for desktop or laptop computers it’s very good.

Email is a very old, stable technology now, it’s finished evolving, so there’s not really many new things that an email program can do. It’s all pretty basic stuff. But you want to make sure you’ve got access to it in all scenarios, because like most things, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

*Computer writer Matt Bentley is director of Bentley Home PC Support. Email Matt on or phone 0211348576.

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