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Client E-mail Programs

by Wren McMains
(5/3/2014)

These days most malware and viruses find there way to your computer because you click on a link or visit a website you shouldn't. We all do it, it doesn't matter how experienced you are.

Malware and viruses no longer come as attachments to e-mail because the people creating them know they will be blocked. Instead they come in e-mails disguised as links you just can't resist clicking on. For this reason, I recommend reading your e-mail via Firefox protected by NoScript, and I recommend using Gmail (see Safe Computing)

Client e-mail programs may not offer you the same level of protection, but they do have their advantages:

Over the years there have been many client e-mail programs people have used and liked. One favorite that many liked was Outlook Express which came with several versions of Windows, up to and including Windows XP. The client program I've recommended for years is Thunderbird (free from Mozilla). Another one many like is Outlook, which is not free but use to come with Microsoft Office. Lately it no longer comes with the basic version of Office, instead it costs $90-110 extra.

My bit complaint with the free Microsoft e-mail programs is not only do they keep making major changes to the interface with each new version, but many of the versions provided no easy way to import your mail you saved into the new program. Going from Outlook Express to Windows Mail was impossible without loosing everything, and each new version is almost as bad.

Thunderbird on the other had as keep file formats the same for more than 10 years, all your saved mail is still accessible. New versions of Thunderbird change the interface, but not so drastically as to shock the user. Sure, I understand if you want to read your e-mail on a phone or touch tablet you want a different interface, but that shouldn't force you to change the interface on your desktop if you don't want to.

The Outlook program ($100+/-), not to be confused with Outlook.com (free) or Office 365 (paid subscription for businesses), is much like Thunderbird (except for the price). My only complaint is Outlook controls things it shouldn't. For example, it won't even let you receive an Access Database file (Microsoft's own file format) as an attachment. I would have no problem if the defaults try to protect you, but you should be able to override when you feel it's safe.

Both Thunderbird and Outlook are client e-mail programs. I recommend using a client e-mail program if you need one of the advantages listed above.

There are two basic ways to connect your client e-mail program to your e-mail server. Since I recommend Gmail I'll talk about connecting to it, but the concepts are the same with any mail server. One of the things I've always liked about Gmail is open it is, you don't need to use it just the way it comes.

With Gmail, first you have to go to settings (the Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab) and allow your client e-mail program to access you account. There are two basic ways:

  1. POP:  Use this choice if you are only using a client e-mail program on one machine and you want to de-couple mail stored in the client program from Gmail. For example, with by de-coupling, e-mails you delete on one side (web or client program) are not deleted on the other.
     
    When you enable POP I recommend you choose the option under 2): When messages are accessed with POP archive Gmail's copy. When you later access Gmail via the web, you see messages which arrived after you last downloaded to your client program in the Inbox, but you can still find older messages in All Mail. If you answer mail from the web and/or archive it, it (and the answers) will still be downloaded to your client program next time you get your mail from the client program.
     
  2. IMAP:  This has always been the way to connect your smartphone or tablet to your e-mail account, but now it's my choice for connecting my client e-mail program as well.
     
    The advantage is that anything you delete on your client program is also deleted from your Gmail account on the Google server in the cloud. You just have to be BEWARE, if you later delete something from Gmail, even after you downloading to your client e-mail program, it's going to also be deleted from client program on your local PC.
     
    I've found it also solves a complaint I've always had with Gmail. Gmail doesn't let you sort e-mails by size, Thunderbird and all these client e-mail programs do. Now I can delete old messages with LARGE attachments ... deleting just a few dozen of these may save half the space you're currently using in the cloud and keep you from running out of the space you get for free.

Tips on accessing Gmail from a Client e-mail program

Google has added "features" to make Gmail better by default. Mostly I don't like them. Here are some tips:

  1. Turn off tabs like "Social" and "Promotions" under "Configure Inbox".
  2. Under Settings / Labels I recommend choosing "Show" for some things that are hidden by default (All Mail, Spam, and Trash as I remember). This is also were you configure which labels (folders) can be seen on you phone, tablet, or client program connected by IMAP.
  3. Keeping lots of messages in your Inbox causes them to be downloaded twice to your client program. Once to the Inbox folder and again to the All Mail folder. Solution: Star things you want to deal with later, then select everything in your Inbox and Archive it (which means the messages are only in All Mail, not there AND in the Inbox).
  4. Assigning Labels to messages causes them to be down-loaded multiple times in your client program. This is not a problem as long as you don't label most of your messages. Labels are great for quickly finding some things, but just use the search box at the top of the Gmail window to find everything else.
  5. Another "feature" Gmail has added it to label a large fraction of your messages as "Important" ... I'm sure its choices wouldn't be yours ... what's worse is that it causes all these messages get downloaded to your client program 3 times originally, to: Inbox, Important, and All Mail. Gmail provides NO easy way to turn the "feature" off. I've found that someone's suggestion of adding a Filter which looks for messages From @, and as the action choose "Never mark it as Important" works.
  6. Another option you have using Thunderbird is that in the settings of Thunderbird you can control which folders (Gmail labels) you want to download messages from. Personally I've found if I download from all, it makes it easy to manage my messages on the Gmail cloud using Thunderbird via IMAP.
  7. You might find Thunderbird easier to use if you turn on the Menu Bar (under Settings / Options).
  8. Since one of the main reasons I use Thunderbird on my laptop is to deal with mail when I'm not connected to the internet, I like to change the default to ask me if I want to work online or offline when i start Thunderbird (hidden under Options / Advanced / Network & Disk Space / Configure Offline Settings).
  9. If you want to backup the messages stored in Thunderbird (or Outlook) I recommend you change where they are stored. By default all these programs seem to hide your messages under the hidden AppData folder that is often not backed up. It's easiest if you change the location when you initially setup the client program, before you download any mail. If the program is nice, it will move your messages when you change the storage location ... I forget which ones do. In Thunderbird the storage location is specified for each account under Account Settings / Server Settings / Local directory AND under Local Folders (you have to specify different folders for both). Specify folders in an area that you backup frequently.

As you know, I like Gmail. Another alternative many like is Outlook.com (preiously Hotmail). The Outlook.com interface is nice and clean and easy to use, but it doesn't give you nearly the control and flexibility provided by Gmail.

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