If you happen to have lived your early- to mid-teen years in the late 90’s, you realize those years have greatly influenced your habits both online and offline. This was the height of the first dot-com era, when Yahoo! and Hotmail doled it out on a battle for audience share. Incidentally, this was also the time when people were weaned away from Eudora and the now-forgotten Netscape Messenger, among others, and the new age of web mail has dawned.
And it wasn’t a very bad thing. Browsers were able to cope up with their new role as desktop mail replacement clients. Fast forward to 2004 and Google unleashes Gmail with extensive use of AJAX, and it seemed like desktop mail is gone for good. It didn’t help either that Outlook Express (bundled with Windows) the earliest of which I remember is Windows 98, and even up to Windows Mail bundled with Windows Vista (more like putting lipstick on an old, farting pig) – is really just a farcically inept cough-up of Microsoft’s own cash cow of an enterprise (Exchange) mail client, Microsoft Outlook.
Me however, being a a tech hippie wannabe and a Windows fanboy, etc., and one who would want to do it another way when everyone else does it this way, started playing with old-school clients like Eudora (whose interface I never got wrapping my head around with), then eventually, and for the longest time, Mozilla Thunderbird (my attachment to Firefox of which is the primary reason).
To the dot-com babies who know no mail other than web mail (those at most in their early 20’s), using a desktop client’s biggest advantage is being able to funnel multiple email accounts into one single interface. If you’re like me with different accounts all over the place, a desktop client makes managing (read, reply, etc) your messages just a little less of a pain, and you can use a single account for all outbound email. You’ll need either a POP3- or an IMAP4-enabled service: most services offer either. If your email service is managed via cPanel, you’ll find the settings in a little option called “Configure Outlook” under Email > Manage Accounts in the main page.
Yahoo! Mail does neither POP nor IMAP, which is sad, where most of Asia’s netizens are dependent. For the rest of the world, though (read: America) Windows Live Hotmail is holding steadfast, and is now tightly tied to Windows Live Mail, and is the easiest one I’ve seen without the messy configuration screens other desktop clients are guilty of.
Tip for the geeks: IMAP > POP. Think of it this way: POP forces you to download your messages as they come, and when shuffling between email clients (your smart phone, the one in your personal laptop that you carry around, the desktop you have at work) – you’ll have messages scattered across each station and this defeats the everything-everywhere premise of desktop mail.
IMAP, however, synchronizes everything, anywhere you try to access it from. Since Google Mail cheaped out on us by implementing POP over IMAP, you can work around this limitation by using an intermediate service with IMAP, such as AIM Mail.
(1) Set up your client’s incoming settings to hose emails from your AIM Mail’s IMAP service; (2) set Gmail to forward ALL email to your AIM Mail; (3) set up your mail client to send email via your Gmail’s SMTP service.
Windows Live Mail’s interface is very much Outlook 2003-ish, here with Windows Vista’s Aero treatment:
Junk Mail controls that don’t work just yet: