Apple Archive

Webmail: The End of Email Clients?

- 2003.01.17

Several years ago, an email application was considered necessary to send and receive email. Within the past few years, companies have started developing Web-based email (or webmail) for those who want to check their email on the road.

How well do these work, and what are some of their features?

Most major email and Internet service providers now offer webmail in addition to their standard POP3 email services that can be used with clients such as Outlook Express, Apple Mail, and Eudora.

Most of them offer standard plain text email, and some also offer HTML support. I don't like to use HTML in email as it increases the size of the message and the time it takes for it to load, but it's a nice option to have anyway.

When webmail started becoming popular, attachments were not completely supported. Now, almost all popular webmail services allow you to attach files. But how well does this work?

I've been having problems with EarthLink's file attachment feature on Earthlink Webmail. There have been many instances where I have tried to send Word documents to people, only to have them open up with garbled text on the other side - but receiving a Word document in ELN webmail works fine.

To be fair, Earthlink is just about to release a new version of its webmail software, but at time of writing, it is not yet available.

America Online is another one that does Web-based email, and it works quite well, with the exception of being a little bit slow. Of course, AOL (as usual) assumes that you have the fastest, most modern computer on the planet - and designs its software to make you want a new one.

AOL's web-based email isn't too bad. The interface is simple - very similar to that of the email section of the AOL application - which makes it very simple for someone who has had little experience with other email applications to use it.

Optimum Online Webmail

Optimum Online, our local broadband Internet provider, also now provides webmail. It works extremely well, offers many options (you can even change the color of the interface), and, most importantly, is fast, even on a slow computer. Speed is one of the biggest complaints I have among webmail services. They tend to slow down already slow computers, making reading email a pain.

The Low End Mac staff and columnists have webmail, and even though I haven't checked it in a while (my apologies to those who have sent me an email, I will get back to you), it's very fast and works easily as well as Optimum Online's.

Why Use Webmail?

But why use webmail when you can get more features (saving messages, sorting and filtering, spam protection) from email clients?

Webmail is extremely convenient. You can check your email from any computer anywhere. As a user of multiple computers, I find this extremely appealing. When I want to check my mail on my PC, for example, I don't need to download the messages I already downloaded on my G4 just to see if I have new mail. I can simply connect to webmail and check.

Webmail is also good to use if you are worried about viruses. While it can't protect you completely, it doesn't download any attachments to your computer without you asking it to do so first. Outlook Express and Apple Mail will download the file while you are downloading your email. I use webmail often when I am on my PC, since I find that antivirus software slows it down too much for my tastes. Plus, I'm not a big fan of Outlook Express.

Webmail is a nice thing to have in this fast paced world where we can find ourselves anywhere at any time.

But does it replace the email client? For me it is very close to doing so.

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