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December 5th 2013 2:52 pm

Desktop email: Web interface or a native client?

Here in the Engadget West Coast offices, most of us use Gmail in one form or another (for both professional and personal purposes). An interesting debate happened this morning on whether or not people preferred a native desktop client (e.g., Mail.app, Airmail, Thunderbird) or were happy using a web interface (through Gmail, Yahoo, or Outlook's webportals).

(And let's not forget those gross people who combine the two and use something like Mailplane. *Shudder*)

Anyway, I find myself using native desktop clients for my purposes -- mostly via Airmail. However, I've found that you can't beat Gmail's search features available through their web interface.

Anyway, are you on the side of mostly good (e.g. native client) or mostly evil (e.g., web interface)?

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18 replies

I enjoy using desktop based solutions for my mail situation, using Thunderbird to collate all my e-mail accounts. This is because I have three different e-mail accounts. Trying to consolidate all these accounts into a single cloud service is just frustrating.
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Native client all the way! Mailbird for WIndows is awesome.
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Desktop client most of the time. I have yet to find a webmail interface that
I like. None I've seen have message filtering and by definition the require a network connection to view anything and that is not always possible or practical when mobile.

The only tome I willingly use a web interface is when I'm using a computer I cannot install software on.
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I'm all about web based everything, cloud this and cloud that, so having a web-based interface is always my #1 go-to. My whole philosophy is being able to access all of my data from anywhere.
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I've been a Thunderbird user for many years but lately I find Gmail more to my liking. Portability is the main reason. It works with all the browsers I use and requires almost no local disk space which turns out to be important when stretching life on an SSD. Perhaps if I weren't such a packrat this wouldn't be an issue but I'm hesitant to discard anything before its time.
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Thunderbird all the way. Email in a web browser is just weird.
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Never mind email, I've yet to find anything that native clients don't do better than web apps.
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When I was still a Macaholic, I used to tell people Apple Mail was THE reason to switch to OS X. I loved it. I had AppleScripts that would read the sender out loud when they were delivered to my work account. I had crazy rules that would do all sorts of neat things with messages as they rolled in.

Then Gmail happened. I fought the valiant fight of trying to make Apple Mail handle Gmail well using IMAP, but I eventually gave in and started using the web interface for Gmail and Apple Mail for everything else. Then the bugs in Mail for 10.4 started showing themselves and I ended up just having Gmail check my other accounts and switched to the web client full time. It took a while, but it was fine once I got used to it. Now, I actually prefer the convenience of the web client since I am routinely using so many different machines and devices that trying to keep all that in sync would make me cry tears of blood.

Having said all that, I have tried desktop clients a handful of times in the past few years "just to see", and the only one that I have really liked is Opera Mail. I don't know how much longer they will keep it around since they are killing the My Opera mail service, but it is a surprisingly useful client with some neat features that none of the others I've tried have.

If I ever stop using Gmail as my main address and go back to using one of my domain addresses with its mail service, I would probably use Opera Mail with IMAP because SquirrelMail and Horde (which is what most hosting providers give you these days) are pretty lame.
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Yeah, my hosting provider does SquirrelMail and Horde (and a third one I can't remember). They're awful. I have people using those to check addresses I provide for them, but I can't for the life of me figure out why. I've provided them with all the information they need to have that mail delivered to GMail or any mail client, but they stay with those awful webmail experiences.

Thanks for mentioning Opera Mail. To be honest, I'd never even heard of it before. I had no idea Opera had that application. For people who want a free mail program I've still been setting them up with Thunderbird even though Mozilla doesn't support it anymore (sadly). I'll use Opera Mail from now until they shut it down :)
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GMail is definitely the best of the webmail clients, I still prefer to get my GMail through Thunderbird though.
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I am still using the old version that was built into the browser at work to manage newsgroups, and I was using it as a feed reader before I switched to InnoReader. Occasionally I will need to test one of the mail accounts we use for automated stuff and I will add the account in for that, then remove it when I am done... so I am technically not using it for "mail" at the moment. I think they took newsgroup support out of the current standalone Mail app, so I haven't tested it yet, but I can only assume it is otherwise identical.
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I don't get enough email to worry too much about where I read it so, the Gmail web interface is enough for me.
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I could never leave my precious GMail tab. I live in it, I thrive in it. I use the same inbox for personal and business email, and nobody else is the wiser. I practice inbox zero successfully, even though I have 12 different addresses feeding into a single mailbox.

There are many reasons why I don't want a desktop client, chief among them being conversation view. There are clients that have that now, but it took a long time for them to get it, and by that time I'd bent the GMail interface to my will :)

The other advantage to using the webmail is consistency across computers. I wonder if you guys who use a client use one computer, probably a laptop? I have a desktop at home and a work laptop I lug around with me, so instead of working to make sure I have identical clients on both computers (probably impossible considering they're different platforms), sticking with the webmail interface lets me have the same user experience on both computers.

There's also little things about using the webmail interface that makes using the GMail app on Android a smoother experience.
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Funny I can't stand that conversation thing I find it really annoying. Drives me nuts on the GMail app on phone.

I use Thunderbird on both my laptop and desktop and it's exactly the same on both. Not sure what the problem is there.
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I rely on desktop clients to access and read my email, for nothing more than I hate keeping a tab open to check my email. I have four accounts configured in my client (Airmail), so having four tabs open just to view email would drive me nuts -- let's not forget how bad Google can be with multiple accounts too.

I don't use my email as massive to-do list like a lot of other users so I don't need the power of the Gmail webapp, and I find Airmail's search to work for my needs.

Also, how could I possibly leverage Alfred with a web client!?
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I've adopted Airmail and am quite happy with it. I've tried most of your big name mac desktop mail applications and for a long time swore to by the gmail web client. I prefer the desktop clients over a web client due to OS integration. I like to see number of unread emails in my menu bar as well as when I alt-tab. And if it weren't for growl notifications, I'd probably miss half my emails. On the other hand the web client exposes some gmail centric features: search, lists, and key commands. I'm not a big enough email guru rockstar yogi to use key commands but I do have my fair list of filters and am a huge proponent of gmail search. What made me switch from web client to native was good support of gmail filters on top of all the pro's I have previously mentioned. I don't feel the Airmail search is on par with the web client, but I email search is not an important enough part of my day. I can easily open up the web browser and perform that complex search when necessary, but it's not worth the price of OS integration features.
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Tried lots of native apps (which I disagree are mostly good) for Gmail but I always wind up going back to the old web-based Gmail (which I disagree is mostly evil). It's faster, doesn't hog memory, has superior search, integrates well with other Google web apps, and in the end, just does everything that the native apps don't do as well or as thoroughly. I'm always willing to try the next hot native app, but they just never measure up.
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It depends on the platform. I use Webmail for my Gmail account but I use Outlook for my Exchange accounts on a desktop.
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