How Do you Read Your Email–Web Browser or Email Software?

There are basically two ways to read and store your emails, and the way you choose will tend to lock you into a method over a long stretch of time.  The main difference between web mail and software clients is where the mail is read and stored.  Web mail is read using a web browser such as Internet Explorer or Chrome.  Software or “client-based” email is read using an email reading program such as Windows Live Mail, Microsoft Outlook, or Mozilla Thunderbird.

  • First there is web mail.  You are using web mail if you use some sort of a web browser to read your email.  So if you are reading your email on Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, and the customized browsers of MSN and AOL, you are a web mailer.  The most popular web mail providers are Google (gmail), Hotmail, MSN, Yahoo, AOL, followed by local offerings from the two main Internet Service Providers, Comcast and CenturyLink (Qwest, USWest).   With web mail, your browser connects to a special email web site, and the email is read from an email server located on the Internet, and saved mail is stored there, too.
    • The main advantages:
      • Web mail can be read from any internet connected computer or device, like a smartphone or tablet.
      • You don’t have to backup your emails, since they are safely stored online by the service provider.
      • In the case of MSN and AOL, there is a well developed “walled-garden” style user interface that most MSN and AOL users are used to and reluctant to part with.
      • In some cases your email service provider is filtering out your SPAM messages.  Google’s gmail has the best reputation for this, and some services charge extra for this feature.
    • The disadvantages:
      • Reading and handling email can be slower than with a separate software client.  Reading speeds are dependent on how fast your internet connection is, and how fast your browser is.
      • If you have multiple email accounts , like business and personal, you have to log out and log in to all of them separately, or read them in different tabs.
      • Other personal information management tools, such as a calendar, address book, or to-do list may not be available or integrated very well.
      • Your email archive is not under your control, but in the hands of a third party, and any problem on their part means you lose your stored email messages.
      • If you change service providers, or in some cases where they are acquired change names, or go out of business, you lose your email address.  You cannot port an AOL address to gmail, for example, at least not the part.
      • You have to have an Internet connection to read your email, especially your stored email archive.  There is no local email archive, and no offline reading option.
      • Your total email storage is limited to the amount the email provider allows, usually 2 GB or less.
  • Second, there are email software clients such as Windows Mail, Outlook (part of the MS Office Suite), Outlook Express, Thunderbird, Eudora, Opera, and corporate workgroup clients such as Outlook, GroupWise, and Lotus Notes.  With software based email readers, the software contacts the email server on the Internet, and copies all your messages from the server and downloads them to your computer, where they are stored on your hard drive in a special database.  Back in the days of slow dial-up connections that came with measured minutes of usage, this was an advantage because you could connect, quickly download your messages, disconnect, and read your email offline, saving time and money.  In today’s world of ubiquitous high-speed Internet connections, this is not an issue.
    • The main advantages:
      • You only need to be connected to actually download the email.  Reading, organizing, and reviewing archived messages can occur when you are off-line.
      • You can have more than one email account share one Inbox.  This can be great when you have a business and a personal account, and would like to read them both at the same time without having to log in to another email session.
      • Reading typically is faster, because you don’t have delays while the web page refreshes when an email is deleted or the page changes to the next email.
      • Email programs typically bundle together an email reader, a contact manager or address book, a calendar, and a to-do list, and some other useful organization tools.
      • Most web mail service provides will let you use a third party email program.  An notable exception:  Yahoo, where you have to have a paid service for that to happen.
      • You own your email archive, and it is easy to transport and transfer to another machine.
    • The disadvantages:
      • You have to back up your email archive to be safe against the failure, loss, or theft of your computer.  (You should be doing this for your other data anyway!!)
      • You have to be at your own computer to read your email, especially your stored mail, although most email services including corporate email have some sort of online web mail offering.  Reading from multiple computers or devices can become confusing.
      • If your computer goes down, accessing your stored mail will be impossible until the email database is transferred to another machine or the computer is repaired.

In my own particular case, I use Outlook as I have been doing for years.  Since I manage my entire business (messaging, customer contacts, client appointments, tasks, work orders) in Outlook it would be almost impossible for me to give it up at this point.  I am currently managing 10 email accounts in one inbox, which would be impossible to manage with web mail.  Why so many?  I have multiple domains (,, with one or two email addresses for each, plus a variety of “webmaster@” email addresses, and a personal Comcast and gmail account.  If your business looks even a little like mine, using a email software program may improve your efficiency. 

Sometimes I do use webmail.  All of my accounts, including the domain based accounts, have webmail interfaces that I can use when I am away from my computer or smartphone.  To be fair, the speed and utility of most webmail user interfaces have improved dramatically over the last four years or so.  For a longer discussion of this topic with many ideas to solve your particular messaging issues, check out the discussion on CNET.

But I still like the control of using Outlook.  My recommendation for you?  If you are happy with web mail, keep it.  But if you are running a business and finding that reading your email has become a burden, you might give a try to the speed, integration, control and efficiency of using Outlook or another good email program.  You can always go back to web mail if it doesn’t end up working for you, and the web mail option will still be available when you need to check messages away from your business computer.


About the Author:

I am a cybersecurity and IT instructor, cybersecurity analyst, pen-tester, trainer, and speaker. I am an owner of the WyzCo Group Inc. In addition to consulting on security products and services, I also conduct security audits, compliance audits, vulnerability assessments and penetration tests. I also teach Cybersecurity Awareness Training classes. I work as an information technology and cybersecurity instructor for several training and certification organizations. I have worked in corporate, military, government, and workforce development training environments I am a frequent speaker at professional conferences such as the Minnesota Bloggers Conference, Secure360 Security Conference in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, the (ISC)2 World Congress 2016, and the ISSA International Conference 2017, and many local community organizations, including Chambers of Commerce, SCORE, and several school districts. I have been blogging on cybersecurity since 2006 at

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