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.

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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, comes from the same source as Opera browser. 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 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/
31.2.0
25.3 MB
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
Opera (M2 Mail Client)
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.
No support for secure message signing or encryption.
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/

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.

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/
7.2 Build 5.140
34.3 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

 
Editor

This software review is copy-edited by Glyn Burgess. Please help edit and improve this article by clicking here.

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Comments

by andw99 on 26. April 2013 - 8:19  (107349)

My personal preference is back with Opera Mail. I tried Opera in the latest version this month, and I have to say I am impressed; it offers fast / seamless IMAP and is better than anything I have tried past or present.

Some background... I have tried all of the above, and some not listed here (Zimbra amongst others) - and have (unfortunately) always ended up using the web based offerings of Google and Microsoft and for a long period have done so; but recently they "improved" their offerings to be so "feature rich" that they are too slow to load and use, and now have strange quirks in their UI that cause many a frustration.

And then we get to Thunderbird; for me I find it surprising that this is at the top of any review list - large footprint, slow / cumbersome to use / setup and frequently unreliable. An example, I contracted at a business in recent years where it was used as the primary for the email system; where it did a fantastic job of frequent corruption of its own email database and was almost impossible to restore. Following many wasted hours and lost emails, Thunderbird was dropped and the Linux equivalent of Outlook (Evolution) put in place with much improved reliability.

I have personally tried and re-tried Thunderbird on occasion over the last 4 or 5 years; it keeps coming on top of reviews so I keep hoping it has made the improvements that make it worthy of such a spot; but the end result for me is always the same - I un-install it.

I would advise, to try the following:
- Opera Mail (latest version is very fast, small, reliable and seamlessly integrates with the what is likely the fastest Windows browser available)
- Dream Mail (also very fast, small and reliable; but it doesn't have IMAP)
- Evolution (has everything including Exchange support - but is only a Linux client; its worth running a Linux VM just to use it and get rid of Outlook - it really is very good)

In my experience, too many of the clients are unreliable / slow or are trying to be "clever" when all most users really want is simple, reliable and fast email.

by CyberWolf64 on 13. June 2014 - 12:20  (116761)

Again, see my post above. I have used Thunderbird from around v4 to current v24.6.
I have emails stored in there going back to about 2003.
The only reason I lost email PRIOR to 2003 was I was using MS Outlook 2000 and it decided one day to upchuck and die and POOF gone.
Never has it been too heavy on resources, maybe a little slow, but when you consider the profile with all that email archived is approaching something like 2/3 to 3/4 of a GIG, well, it explains it.
-------
As for Opera Mail..YUK!
Tried it and never went back. Did NOT appreciate that it organizes your mail how it sees fit (oh yeah you can "tag" and all that) but it does NOT store them in a distinct layout on the drive (aka FOLDERS).

by MidnightCowboy on 13. June 2014 - 13:14  (116762)

I too have used Thunderbird like for ever on Windows and Linux. I use mostly Linux and as I have emails coming in all the time the Firetray extension that let's me see the numerical count of new mails is a great bonus. Thunderbird collects from my Gmail, GMX and webmail accounts, all of which have some sort of tag system or message filter applied. There was one Windows version some time back that would suddenly stop collecting mails at the preset interval automatically, but apart from that I've never had a problem with either platform. MC - Site Manager.

by MidnightCowboy on 26. April 2013 - 9:37  (107350)

Evolution is available for Windows but I never found it stable enough to use.

http://www.softpedia.com/get/Internet/E-mail/E-mail-Clients/Evolution-fo...

Even on Linux I had some severe issues such as a random desire to re-download mail that was already in one of my inboxes, and it would never auto connect to GMX if I had a torrent running.

Thunderbird on the other hand has been fine on all my systems and I use it for both Linux and Windows. As with all data I keep it backed up and on the odd occasion when something does go astray (sometimes after an upgrade) I can always restore.

eM Client is a better Evolution alternative for Windows (but limited accounts in free version) although no doubt some will complain that it's heavy. MC - Site Manager.

http://www.emclient.com/

by tsndnm on 1. April 2013 - 21:03  (106731)

Thunderbird Users who would like to connect to MS Exchange based accounts may want to try the ExQuilla extension. I (personally) think this extension reduced the gap between Thunderbird & M$ Outlook by miles!

by MidnightCowboy on 2. April 2013 - 1:28  (106735)

Please note that ExQuilla is beta software and still under development. You can check out the issues being experienced by users here. MC - Site Manager.

http://mesquilla.com/2012/01/31/exquilla-microsoft-exchange-server-for-t...

by Aleron on 24. March 2013 - 21:49  (106507)

There is new free e-mail client on market: Inky

Here is the link:

http://inky.com/

I am going to use it for now and we'll see if it is good. Of course it is highly recommended to try it.

Best regards

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