Best Free Email Software

 
Introduction

With so many clients now in the cloud, rather than on the desktop, email clients have certainly taken a turn over the past few years. So, to differentiate themselves, the desktop clients have become more advanced and offer more and more features to keep customers interested.

For most users finding a good email client can mean the difference between getting on with your work or hitting your head against a desk in frustration.

Here's a list of the best email clients reviewed and compiled to save you from heart/headache. For ease of use I've split the review into two different categories, desktop and web-based.

  Read this article in Spanish (Español)

 
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Go to details...  Go straight to the Quick Selection Guide

 
Discussion
Desktop

Mozilla ThunderbirdMozilla Thunderbird is a free, open source POP and IMAP email client developed by Mozilla.org, the same folks who brought you Firefox. Feature-wise it sits somewhere between Outlook Express and Outlook, which means that it offers an upgrade to Express users and a downgrade to those who use the more advanced PIM features of Outlook.  Additional features can be added through free extensions. Notable among these is Webmail, an extension that allows POP3 access to webmail services operated by Yahoo, Hotmail, Lycos, MailDotCom, Gmail and Libero. Thunderbird email files can be indexed by the Google, Yahoo! and Copernic desktop search programs.

Outlook Express users should seriously consider switching. You’ll be rewarded with a more advanced product with these features:

  • built-in spam filtering and RSS reader
  • message color coding
  • fast email search
  • anti-phishing measures
  • spell check as you type
  • inbox filters
  • Kerberos authentication
  • automatic updates
  • the ability to view your mail in conversational threads.

On top of that, the product is more secure than Outlook Express and, unlike the latter, is still being actively developed. Switching is made easier by the fact that Thunderbird looks and works similar to Outlook Express. Tools within Thunderbird also allow you to easily import your Outlook Express account settings and stored email. If you need assistance, there is an excellent guide from Mozilla available for download in the Quick Selection Guide section below.

 

OperaAnother good option, that many people are not aware of, is in the web browser Opera. The folks at Opera call it their M2 Mail Client. Although there is no calendar in this program as in Outlook (it wasn't meant to compete with Outlook anyway), it is still quite powerful. This built-in email client is a combined email database, news reader, mailing list organizer and RSS news feed reader, and it supports both POP3 and IMAP protocols. My experience with it was quite pleasant. It was easy to set up, very intuitive to use, and it easily found any contact I had ever had email correspondence with. Overall, it's a very nice product.

 

DreamMail is an email client that can deal with POP, and Web Mail accounts. It does not have IMAP support. Its user Interface bares a resemblance to Outlook, but while it's a simple layout there is a lot of functionality.

The main features are:

  • import from Outlook Express and Foxmail
  • customizable templates
  • remote mailbox management
  • create a separate email storage
  • supports multiple accounts
  • Supports POP3, APOP, SMTP, eSMTP, SASL.

Another good feature is the option to create separate accounts for different users, this enables them to have their own email accounts in their profile and the ability to password protect it.

Set up is fairly straightforward, you need to copy any POP or IMAP settings across, but this isn't a major problem. Adding web mail accounts is as easy as inputting your web mail address, plus your username and password.

The only downside is that it lacks the true portability of a web-based email client, but if that's not something you're worried about then this would be a good option.

 

FoxmailDespite the name Foxmail, it is not related to Firefox, but comes out of China. It's an impressive product with features that match or exceed Thunderbird's, and it's also very easy to use. My only real beef is the quality of the help files. Yes, they have been translated to English, but rather poorly; so poorly that they are actually quite amusing. With version 6.5 Beta 3 Foxmail now supports the IMAP protocol, which is a big deal for some. If you are savvy enough to figure out the program yourself, Foxmail is worthy of consideration.  It's a top product with eight million users world-wide, and it's a real alternative to Thunderbird. If you need help there's a link in the Quick Selection Guide section.

 

Incredimail is an email client currently in version 2.0 that supports both IMAP, POP3 and Webmail accounts. The basic version is free to download and use, however additional features like animations, themes and junk filters require you to upgrade to the premium service so that is something to watch out for.

The user interface is well polished with basic animations that pop up when you receive a new email or if you delete one. This is a nice touch but can get in the way, it can however be disabled.

Incredimail supports Webmail accounts for GMail, Yahoo, AOL and Windows Live Hotmail.

The initial setup was fairly painless, the software detected the settings I had for Outlook although it got one of the port numbers wrong, but that was an easy fix in the settings. It also downloaded all the existing emails in my inbox and transferred them.

However, you are required to select the tool-bar integration and have Incredimail as your default search engine before you can proceed.

As a basic email client that can handle all of the main accounts, this is a very easy to set up and capable program, but it's limited by the need to upgrade for other main features.

 

eM Client is a popular client for Windows (XP - 7) that supports all popular webmails as well as POP3 and IMAP. Upon downloading you get a 30 day free trial, which grants you all the features, but the free license constricts you to only 2 email addresses per user.

The user interface for eM Client is certainly very swish (I haven't said that in a while...), and certainly looks and feels premium when using. There are no ads, or gimmicks, just a clean interface, not dissimilar to Outlook 2003. Initial setup is very easy, allowing you to import your accounts and settings from the clients already installed on your computer; and even manual setup was very easy, a nice interface to guide you through.

eM Client is certainly one of the better looking clients available for Windows however, the free version is held back by the account restriction to only two email addresses.

Web-Based

GmailLet's get this one done first! Gmail, arguably the most popular webmail client at the moment, integrating deeply into the Google ecosystem and offering more features than it ever has before. On that note, features wise, it has a lot that you would expect such as:

  • works with both POP and IMAP
  • arrange emails into folders by adding 'Labels'
  • filters
  • contacts and tasks can be added and amended.

You'll find you'll get a lot more out of Gmail if you use other Google products. For example, if you use Google+ (which, realistically, you don't, but hypothetically...) you can chat right in the Gmail window, you can also view your circles on the right hand sidebar. Another great feature is Google Labs which is a series of add-ons that you can use to customise your Gmail; it's a very nice feature for more advanced users and it's great to see this amount of customization in a webmail client. 

Although Gmail is free, there are ads displayed at the top of the list of emails which is fairly unobtrusive, but can make things look a bit cluttered and at first for me when I tested it, a little confusing as I wasn't expecting it.

You get 10GB of space for free, but if you need more (again, realistically, you won't), Google offer monthly payment plans to get you more space, which can go up to 16TB.

Gmail is at its peak, but there are downsides, the adverts while discrete can annoy some users and the Google+ integration can seem annoying if you don't use it; however, all that put aside, it's certainly a stylistic, elegant email client and offers a great number of features.

 

OutlookOutlook (the new Hotmail), Microsoft's really gone all out with it's Modern UI! It's taking all their products by storm, and Hotmail's next on the list. The new user interface of Outlook is very simple, with the layout of Hotmail remaining largely intact, but with better visuals that newcomers should find more appealing. Setup is fairly simple (or if you have a Microsoft account already, non-existent), like Gmail it provides options to get your old emails forwarded to one email address or access them directly through POP3 support (no IMAP support, I'm afraid).

Some nice features include: being able to delete all emails by a certain sender, or even choosing how many emails from that sender to keep before automatically deleting old ones; automated replies for when you're away from your computer; as well as filters and folder; and all that jazz. Also, being able to import up to 4 POP3 accounts should keep most users satisfied. The built-in contact list 'People' is very modern, as is the calendar, but both put style over functionality as it can sometimes be difficult to access the advanced options.

On the down side, if you're not a fan of the UI, it is everywhere and while for the time being you can swap back to Hotmail view, I wouldn't expect that to stick around. Another downside is no IMAP support, but overall Outlook offers a better, cleaner refresh of Hotmail.

 
Related Products and Links

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Quick Selection Guide

Mozilla Thunderbird
5
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Combines a web service with a stand-alone program
Customizable and expandable through add-ons, intuitive user interface.
No native support for web-mail clients such as GMail or Hotmail.
http://www.mozilla.org/
24.1.1
21.12 MB-->Win32.exe
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
A portable version of this product is available but not from the developer.
Windows XP/Vista/7, Mac OS-X, Various Linux distros

Thunderbird Extensions: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/thunderbird
Webmail Plugin: http://webmail.mozdev.org/index.html
Guide for Migrating from Outlook to Thunderbird: http://opensourcearticles.com/introduction_to_thunderbird

v24.1.1 released 19 November, 2013
View the release notes here

DreamMail
5
 
Combines a web service with a stand-alone program
Simple interface, lots of customisation, can handle POP, IMAP as well as Web Mail accounts.
Lacks the portability of Web Based Mail
4.6.9.2
8.9 MB
Unrestricted freeware
A portable version of this product is available from the developer.
Windows XP/Vista/7

The vendors website has now acquired a poor WOT (Web Of Trust) rating. We have no reports of issues with the product itself which remains certified by the major download sites. This situation is currently under review.

Dreammail is no longer in active developement or being supported.

Opera (M2 Mail Client)
4.5
 
Combines a web service with a stand-alone program
Built-in spam filter works right out-of-the-box, easy and intuitive to use.
Packaged as part of the Opera web browser (cannot be run separate from browser).
http://www.opera.com/
12.15
12.6 MB
Unrestricted freeware
A portable version of this product is available from the developer.
Windows XP/Vista/7, Mac OS 7.5-OS X, various Linux distros, phones and tablets

Opera language files can be downloaded here: http://www.opera.com/download/languagefiles/

Foxmail
4
 
Combines a web service with a stand-alone program
Intuitive and easy to use, has many of the same features as Thunderbird.
Help files are not very good.
http://fox.foxmail.com.cn/
7.1 BUILD 3.052
24.4 MB
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows all

The FoxMail English FAQ can be foundhere: http://www.hazeleger.net/psjs_faqs/index.html
Note: If after installing, the program comes up in Chinese, all you have to do is delete the file chinese.lgb in the installation folder.
Developer's website is in Chinese.

v7.1 BUILD 3.052 released 11 October, 2013

GMail
3.5
 
Is a web service or web application
Can be linked to other Google Products e.g. Calender, Buzz, Talk
Has advertising, a little cluttered in it's present form, need to pay for additional storage.
https://mail.google.com/mail/
Unrestricted freeware
Web based

Gmail Blog http://gmailblog.blogspot.com
Help and Support http://mail.google.com/support/
Supports the following browsers: Google Chrome, Firefox 3.5+, Internet Explorer 7.0+, Safari 3.0+ (Only Google Chrome supports Desktop Notifications)

IncrediMail
3
 
Combines a web service with a stand-alone program
Easy set-up, supports POP3, IMAP and WebMail
Need to upgrade for some features
2.0
11.6 MB
Feature limited freeware
Windows XP/Vista/7

 
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Comments

by edward on 24. November 2008 - 17:23  (10940)

Your right Gmail is great, but Email clients tend to be more flexible in options. You can't access email from other networks within Gmail alone. With a client you can have multiple email accounts from different networks.

Go Thunderbird!!!

Edward A. Weissbard
Best Free Instant Messaging Client, Best Free Browser Protection Utility & Best Free Virtual Desktop Moderator/Editor

 

by Anonymous on 24. November 2008 - 18:50  (10941)

Yes, I'm aware of that, but I think you could also include a comparision of popular web mails like Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo in review for those of us who don't need that sort of desktop features.

by joe.bennett on 25. November 2008 - 15:42  (10998)

Gmail does have the option to access email on other networks... it just doesn't have the ability to access previously downloaded email that is saved to your local pc.

The reason we don't include Gmail as a program here is because it is a service and not a downloadable program. Gmail is a great free email service, but as Edward mentioned, it is still limited whereas the products featured here are much more flexible.

by Anonymous on 29. November 2008 - 9:20  (11191)

Second an earlier comment: what about eudora?

All the features you need including multiple email account handling,
actually looks like an email client, not a collection of web browser extentions,
I love firefox (2.0.0.18, not 3.x) but their email client does nothing for me.

by Anonymous on 2. December 2008 - 18:25  (11324)

has anyone tried Windows Mail for Vista?

by Anonymous on 3. December 2008 - 15:36  (11370)

Opera's newest configurations have made the mail client almost unusable -- it continuously crashes the whole program. I use Opera on XP media and XP home, and have done so for the last four and a half years. I love it -- but alas, lack of real help and this crashing problem is driving me away.

by Anonymous on 3. December 2008 - 19:43  (11383)

Nice, but still behind Thunderbird in terms of features. Better is the new Windows Live Mail, I think Paul Thurrot has a nice review on it. Google it.

by Anonymous on 3. December 2008 - 21:43  (11386)

Try upgrading Gmail with Integrated GMail 1.2.3 (support for Labs, Themes and Gadgets) and Gmail gets better than Thunderbird & Co.

by Anonymous on 7. December 2008 - 16:58  (11584)

I personally prefer DreamMail right now:
http://www.softpedia.com/get/Internet/E-mail/E-mail-Clients/DreamMail.shtml

as it allows you to backup your email incase you ever need to format, sure it may not be constantly updated anymore (kinda like Foxmail that you guys have mentioned above) however I feel that the options and all beat out Thunderbird and Thunderbird has a long way to come to match DreamMail.

by 4einc on 7. December 2008 - 20:39  (11598)

Unfortunately I didn't login when I posted the first message so I couldn't have edited it...
But anyways I decided to spend the day using Thunderbird and checking out all the features that it had and the vast array of plugins that can be found on the net (including a tool that will allow me to back up each email account and minimize thunderbird to system tray) and I have to say I feel safe behind thunderbird, as I started to doubt DreamMail now don't get me wrong I love the program and all but if your using "McAfee SiteAdvisor" and you visit DreamMail's site you'll see it come up in the red which got me to thinking if it was actually as safe as what Softpedia says it is or not, so I bit my lip and went to thunderbird for the day my day experience of thunderbird is expanding as I removed DreamMail from my system perhaps for good perhaps not but we'll see what the future holds for us here at 4E Inc and email clients.

- Shane
http://4einc.co.cc

by Anonymous on 8. December 2008 - 17:42  (11635)

Hey Guys;

i know many are fans of DreamMail & FoxMail however I came across another Jap-based/created email client that is also fast and friendly it's called KooMail
it's still being updated:
http://www.koomail.com/index_en.htm

check it out, maybe it'll even show up on here

- Shane Diamond -
http://4einc.co.cc

by Anonymous on 8. December 2008 - 19:24  (11639)

according to zimbra's website the starter package is $300 perhaps you meant something other that the "cost" is free.!!!!

also it appears you need to be on some type network like edge ???

It is however a great looking program I wish it were available to the common person needing a replacement for outlook

by joe.bennett on 9. December 2008 - 2:51  (11665)

Hi Shane.

Thanks for the suggestion. I will check it out.

-Joe

by Anonymous on 9. December 2008 - 4:27  (11667)

Hey Joe;

Just thought I'd let ya know, the program does seem kinda cool and all HOWEVER after messin around with it for a bit I quickly discovered it was nothing but bad news, I sent out two emails... one to my wife an one to my mom, neither one got the email not to mention that before you can send you have to choose the "coding" for it to go either UNICODE or MIME it's not your "typical" email program and since screwin with it I got rid of it and went to Thunderbird (as you mentioned in your article as what you believe to be the best) there are a few things I dislike however hopefully when Ver 3 rolls out it'll be in that.

- Shane -
http://4einc.co.cc

by Anonymous on 20. December 2008 - 23:53  (12193)

the latest version of foxmail is 6.5 beta3 which supports IMAP now!

by Anonymous on 30. December 2008 - 9:57  (12747)

What about an email client called "The Bat!"
I've used a few good security programs that list this but not Thunderbird.
I remember the BAT used to get a lot of praise all across the internet.

Thank you for looking.

Neil_in_Florida

by joe.bennett on 30. December 2008 - 17:20  (12776)

Looks like "The Bat" is a try before you buy.

by Anonymous on 30. December 2008 - 18:59  (12781)

The Bat sure reminds me of Kmail, http://kontact.kde.org/kmail

by Anonymous on 2. January 2009 - 15:12  (12977)

lost my emails,should be poomail

by Anonymous on 12. January 2009 - 15:02  (13725)

Si.Mail
http://www.simail.si/

Probably the best e-mail client. And it's FREE. Enjoy!

by Anonymous on 14. January 2009 - 17:12  (13874)

is there a non portable version ?
if so where ?

by Anonymous on 16. January 2009 - 15:05  (13995)

Try Mulberry Mail!

by Anonymous on 16. January 2009 - 18:14  (14013)

Has no IMAP support.

by ma_t on 4. February 2009 - 13:56  (15301)

Well it seems that you are the only one having these problems. I use the opera mail client everyday and it hasn't failed me once

by Anonymous on 4. February 2009 - 16:30  (15318)

Yes, Mulberry is the best for me !

by Anonymous on 5. February 2009 - 6:10  (15373)

Try Koma mail.
http://www.koma-code.de/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=5&Item...

It can run portable on a USB drive, handle multiple accounts. Can handle IMAP and POP3.

Has basic RSS reader and PIM functions.

Basic compared to Thunderbird but I find it much lighter on resources.
Win98/2K/XP/vista

by Anonymous on 23. February 2009 - 13:09  (16653)

What about Postbox? It's still beta, but I think it already works great...
http://www.postbox-inc.com/

by joe.bennett on 24. February 2009 - 2:47  (16699)

I'm keeping an eye on Postbox. It looks very interesting indeed, but my tests of the product showed that it still needs some work. It wasn't terribly stable on my pc when I ran it and the installation and functionality of the program looked almost exactly like that of Thunderbird. Now, I know that the developers of Thunderbird are on working on Postbox, but this looked more to me like a blatant rip off of code rather than a work inspired by another program.

I will continue to keep an eye on it.

by Anonymous on 25. February 2009 - 21:00  (16800)

Well, one could say that it makes Thunderbird even a lot better ;-)(except for the incompatibility to add-ons). The two things I like the most are the tab-feature and the clear structure. I think the final version will be a good possibility for people who have problems with Thunderbird to switch. In my case TB always worked incredibly slow, regardless of my efforts to keep it clean of trash-mails and compacting the folders regularly. Switching from Thunderbird to Postbox was quite easy due to the similarity.

by Anonymous on 3. March 2009 - 21:50  (17149)

there's a free open source version. looks pretty promising. gonna give it a whirl. thanks for posting this!

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