What Is the Difference Between Web-Based Email & Client Email Services?
By Andy Walton
Email is a vital part of our online lives, with a 2012 Radicati Group study showing that there are over 3.3 billion accounts in existence. These accounts can be accessed through Web mail -- where messages are read in a Web browser -- or dedicated programs known as email clients. Your choice of Web- or client-based email access can affect the security and accessibility of your email.
You can access Web mail from any Internet-connected device, whereas you can only use an email client on the specific device the client software is installed on. Web mail, however, can only be read when you are online, unlike client-based email which usually provides offline access. Also, clients can often be set up to retrieve messages from Web mail accounts, such as Gmail, Yahoo or Outlook.com, so you can read email from your Web mail provider in the client of your choice.
Because Web mail services keep your email stored on your email provider's servers, the size of your inbox is limited to however much storage space your provider gives you. With client-based email, on the other hand, you can save your email to your own storage. This can be a factor for business users or those who send large emails, who may need to weigh up the cost of paying their mail provider for extra space against buying their own storage.
Your Web mail interface looks the same no matter what Web browser you access it from, although some providers offer limited customization features. Email clients, however, vary greatly in their capabilities and ease of use. This means that users of client-based email solutions can choose the program that best suits their needs. For example, clients like Postbox Express place a focus on simplicity, while products such as Thunderbird and Outlook provide more advanced categorization and security features.
Web mail eliminates many physical security risks a mail client user might encounter. For example, there is very little risk to a Web mail user of an email storage device being stolen, as the emails themselves are held in the secure facilities used by mail providers. However, Web mail services are often high-profile websites that make an attractive target for hackers. In addition, client-based solutions often offer advanced security features like encryption, and users can control where their mail is physically stored.
Andy Walton has been a technology writer since 2009, specializing in networking and mobile communications. He was previously an IT technician and product manager. Walton is based in Leicester, England, and holds a bachelor's degree in information systems from the University of Leeds.