Dear Tech Thursday–Email Clients

Dear Tech Thursday,

Compare and contrast: email app (Thunderbird, Outlook, etc.) vs gmail (using a web browser)…which is better? Why?

–Messaging in Munsell

Oh, Messaging! I wish I had a simple answer for you, but alas, technology is never as simple as we want it to be. The basic answer is that there is no difference– desktop clients and web apps work the same way. But, as always, the devil is in the details. So when it comes to email, there are two questions that will guide your decision. First, where do you want to check your email? Second, are you happy with your current set up?

Let’s investigate the first question. The main limitation of desktop clients like Outlook and Thunderbird is that you can only check email from the computer on which the program is installed. If you will never have a need to check email while you’re away from the office, a desktop client is probably a good choice. Web-based email apps like Gmail allow you to check your email from any device as long as you have an internet connection. Even if you never plan on checking your email after work hours or from anywhere else than your desk, it’s good to be familiar with Gmail. If your computer crashes or you need to access an email while at a meeting in a different office, you won’t be stuck without important info.

This isn’t a hard and fast guideline though, because desktop clients like Outlook now have mobile apps AND web apps which mean you can maintain the functionality of the program without being tied to your desktop.

So, really, the most important question is—do you like the way you’re working now? Because the differences between desktop clients and web-based apps are so minimal, you shouldn’t feel pressured to switch to something you don’t like. There are some differences in the way that Gmail handles multiple email accounts that might be better managed with a desktop client, but if you really like Gmail and manage multiple accounts, there are settings that can help with that workflow.

No matter which kind of email client you use, there’s one thing you can count on—change. You’ll have to keep on top of installing updates for desktop clients. Sometimes, email clients stop being updated (Eudora is a good example of this) which means that your program may not be able to handle newer email features. For web-based email clients, you will not have to install updates while using a browser, but you will have to install updates to apps if you use them. Also, changes to the interface may happen without warning, leaving you wondering where that button you used to use went…

Best of luck, Messaging, and if you need more advice, use your favorite client and email us at

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