Webmail vs. Local Email?

Note: This was just before I shifted to Google Apps web based email only.

I am constantly asked about the differences in webmail vs an email program.

Webmail Examples: Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL

Webmail Advantages

  • Can access from any computer connected to the Internet (Win, Mac, Linux)
  • If your computer has a catastrophic crash, the email is stored on servers in the cloud that are typically very redundant.
  • Your email contacts are available anywhere.

Webmail Disadvantages

  • If our servers crash, your email may be potentially lost – we do perform backups.
  • You must be connected to the internet to view any of  your email – including old email.
  • If you are typing up an email and your Internet connection hiccups, you may lose what you typed.
  • You have a finite amount of webspace – for instance Bellsouth provides a max of 250MB while GMail (google) provides ~2GB.
  • Moving email from one provider to another can be a pain.
  • Most webmail clients don’t a robust way to import/export addresses
  • Many webmail clients are surrounded by advertising (Hotmail, Yahoo, etc)
  • Some webmail clients don’t work well in all browsers – many have IE only functions.
  • If the webserver has a catastrophic failure you are dependent on the providers backup system.
  • Most webmail clients are not as robust on features – such as spam rules, formatting, SSL, etc.

Local Email Client – Outlook Express, Outlook, Thunderbird Advantages

  • Your email is retrieved and stored locally – to your pc – so that you can backup your own email / addresses.
  • Your address book and contacts are easily moveable to other pcs or platforms.
  • Message formatting is much more robust.
  • Most have more robust features – spam rules, formatting, SSL, etc.
  • You limits to email storage are generally only limited to your hard drive storage (or until the software crashes).
  • Stability is dependent only on your pc.
  • You can chose from many different free or non-free email clients.
  • Most email clients offer other features such as newsreaders, calendars, etc.
  • If your hard drive is encrypted, then your email is more protected.
  • Harder to exploit an email client vs browser exploits for webmail.
  • Downloaded email is available offline.

Local Email Client – Disadvantages

  • You are dependent on your backup system. If you hard drive crashes then you may lose email that has not been backed up.
  • Your email is not typically available “anywhere”.
  • Your contacts are not available “anywhere”.

Hybrid Email Solutions
If you want the best of both worlds, then using Gmail or Google Apps is probably your best bet. Both support POP and IMAP. With POP Google keeps a copy of sent mail also which is unusual (but useful) for an email provider. Google’s implementation of IMAP is also pretty good.