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Microsoft’s Outlook is the big brother of Outlook Express, which is Window’s default desktop eMail client.

Outlook is part of Microsoft’s Office suite. It comes with a lot of extra features compared to Outlook Express, including time/event management, contact management, and Microsoft Exchange Server support to synchronize and share information.

Arguably, Outlook Express is a good enough tool for those who don’t expect a lot of flexibility from their software. But what if you want more without having to spend money? Which free alternatives to Outlook should you look into?


What is it?

Thunderbird is Mozilla’s desktop eMail client. As such, it’s an open source application and supports various addons, which enhance its functionality.

Like Outlook, Thunderbird supports POP, IMAP, and SMTP. Using the Account Wizard, you also can subscribe to RSS News & Blogs, hook up to your Newsgroup account, and launch a quick Gmail setup.

What makes it a better alternative to Outlook?

Thunderbird is available not just for Windows, but also for Mac OS X and Linux. Localized versions of Thunderbird exist for dozens of the most common languages.

Thunderbird is much better than Outlook, in case you enjoy to customize your eMail client. There is a vast collection of themes and extensions available. These will also cover up for most features that are not integrated into Thunderbird by default.

MakeUseOf has dozens of articles regarding Thunderbird. Below is a small selection:


What is it?

Gmail or Google Mail is Google’s free webmail client.

Although it is only an online eMail application, Gmail is a very powerful tool that easily rivals most common desktop clients. Gmail supports POP and IMAP and it is fully integrated with the Google Apps suite.

What makes it better than Outlook?

The clear advantage of an online eMail client is its global availability. Wherever you go, whichever computer you use, your eMail is already there.

Gmail provides a complex selection of settings and features. Gmail tracks conversations and optionally compiles all eMails belonging to one conversation into a single thread. Within settings you can create filters, enable Google Mail Labs experimental features, manage multiple inboxes, and switch themes.

There are tons of Gmail hacks that provide interesting options. MakeUseOf has covered them extensively. Here are some of the highlights:

Angelina has written a series of posts on How To Turn Gmail Into a Multitasking Machine. In Part 1 How To Turn Gmail Into A Multitasking Machine (Part 1) How To Turn Gmail Into A Multitasking Machine (Part 1) Read More she explains how to best configure Gmail, how to consolidate your eMail, and set up labels. In Part2 she provides tips for eMail filtering. Finally, in Part 3, Angelina explores options for the sidebar and the use of multiple inboxes.

Zimbra Desktop

What is it?

free alternatives to outlookYahoo’s Zimbra Desktop is a desktop eMail client that rivals Gmail, Thunderbird, and Outlook alike. Interestingly, it is powered by Mozilla.

What makes it a better alternative to Outlook?

Much like its Mozilla companion Thunderbird, Zimbra is available in 20 different language versions for Windows, Mac, and Linux. The design is sleek and Zimbra offers several more theme options. Best of all, it’s easy and intuitive to use with a ton of useful features.

Zimbra supports its own online webmail client Zimbra as well as Yahoo! Mail, Gmail, Microsoft Live Hotmail, AOL Mail, Microsoft Exchange IMAP, IMAP, and POP.

Zimbra has a built-in calendar, contacts, task manager, documents, and briefcase.

outlook alternatives

Obviously, language integration is not yet perfect. Although I selected the US English language installation and confirmed this language preference within options, some tabs and menus are still displayed in the language of my operating system: German. This should not be an issue if you select the language of your operating system.

Zimbra synchronizes eMails, contacts, and calendars with Zimbra, Yahoo! Mail, and Gmail.

Like Gmail, Zimbra offers an optional conversation view, i.e. threaded conversations. It also comes with advanced tagging options.

Contacts can be grouped and tagged, you can add photos, and import/export via .csv files is supported.

Zimbra comes with great search features. You can quickly search your mailbox for all or specified item types or use the advanced search to add several search criteria, such as file size, date and time, tag, status, folder, and more. The best is that searches can be saved as virtual folders.

Zimbra extensions are called Zimlets.

For more details on how Zimbra compares to Outlook and Thunderbird, check out the Feature Comparison list.


If none of the above alternatives seem entirely satisfying to you, please have a look at the following two clients:

IncrediMail was reviewed by Saikat: Have Some Fun With This Email Client (Windows).
Zenbe received a review from Sam: All Your Emails In One Place.

What is your favorite eMail client and what makes it valuable to you?

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  1. Anonymous
    August 26, 2015 at 8:33 am

    Hey Tina, Thanks for the list. You should have a look at Mailbird and add to the list:-) Especially since Windows 10 launched Mailbird is pretty much the best alternative out there.

  2. Jon Tanpoco
    July 10, 2015 at 6:21 am

    I downloaded Zimbra to try it. After installing, I couldn't get past it trying to access its servers. After waiting for what seemed like forever, I just closed it and uninstalled it. I'm now using eM Client. It's fabulous for gmail!

  3. Rion
    May 1, 2015 at 2:35 pm

    People, you forget the purpose of the software is to help any time to get peoples tasks.
    Thunderbird has a bug I filled and others for 10 (TEN ) years!
    When you move data from one folder to another or to another PC(nevertheless with any software or manually) 25 % chance is Thunderbird LOST LOST MY DATA, my emails, my information. This is disastrous! Even now I am writing, I needed some data 2012, 2014! and what I see nothing!
    I opened the same emails I have in outlook file and voila! I can read information important for me not for developers of Mozilla company whatever they say.
    No excuse.
    I remembered this bug and cloned my email in 2014 with outlook and what I see now , again and again, no-professionalism in doing even their work, not to say about users.

  4. Ruth Balkin
    March 16, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    After reading all these comments, I figured out that I still need Outlook, not so much for e-mail, but for all the other features, especially those connected with Contacts - Journals, etc.

    My problem seems to be that when I transferred the files to the new computer, stuff either gets left out or written over. I'm afraid to use it for anything other than e-mail (I've been using gmail for that). How is stuff backed up; which files get transferred; where is stuff saved? When I open Outlook, it seems to look for backup.pst and can't find it (It's on an external drive). When I want to save something, it seems to back it up in archive.pst (or maybe it's the other way around).

    I hope someone can advise me. This is really cutting into my productivity. I can compare everything in Outlook on the old computer to the new computer. This would be time-consuming, but possible. If I did it, would the new computer save it to the proper file?
    I went from Windows 7 to Windows 8.1 and am using Office 2007.


  5. Kerwin
    February 12, 2010 at 6:18 pm

    Those are all bloatware.
    Loving Opera Mail here.
    Clawsmail or sylpheed are also great alternatives.

  6. Colin
    February 6, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    Sadly, my company still uses clunky Outlook 2003. At home I had Outloook as part of the Office 2007 suite, so I tried to export the work calendar to home and import it to the 2007 version.
    I spent ages changing the dreadful 2003 categories into something more useful to me in 2007. A month later I repeated the process and the 2003 version totally messed-up the 2007 categories!
    So give me Thunderbird and tags any day over Outlook and ridiculous colour coding.

  7. Stel
    February 5, 2010 at 11:29 am

    Hi all
    First time I join in this excellent platform of MakeUseOf. Are there any additional comments regarding size of files that Outlook alternatives can handle? What about tools for file management? I have been burdened with the issue of using chkpst tool that Windows offers, yet I find Outlook very fragile to handling large files.

  8. outro
    February 5, 2010 at 10:12 am

    I'm really shocked you put Gmail in there! In my opinion it sucks. I don't know about functionality but nothing can make me use such an ugly and user unfriendly web mail client. Zimbra is best of the three. It's sweet and has all the features I need. Gosh, even Yahoo! Mail is better than Gmail...

  9. Neal R
    January 20, 2010 at 9:18 am

    How can I use any of the above with my own mail address rather than say As you may have noticed, I am not a techie.

    • Mike
      January 20, 2010 at 4:59 pm

      The exact way of using your email address with an alternative email reader will differ for each app, so just check out the documentation that comes with each one and go from there. All of them will provide a configuration or setup option where you enter your email address, the mail server that handles incoming email and the server that handles outgoing email. That info is available from your email provider, or you can check the settings you are using in your current software and copy the same info to the new app. Some email service providers use the same server for both sending and receiving, in which case you simply enter the same server info in both places.

      Note that you don't have to stop using one email reader to install and use another one, so you could try one out without uninstalling the one you are using now. However, if you do that you will likely end up with some email in one app's inbox and some in the other.

  10. Mike
    January 18, 2010 at 11:04 am

    Again, though Thunderbird may be a great app in its own right, the point here is that it is not a viable alternative to Outlook as the author of this article claimed. Thunderbird may be a great alternative to Outlook Express (almost any alternative is better than Outlook Express), but it is not a viable alternative to Outlook.

    Having said that, I must say that the new Lightning Add-on for Thunderbird 3 might be promising. It is only in its infant form, having only just been released, so it is only minimal and still lacks the rich feature set that makes Outlook so valuable for calendaring and task tracking and contact management and journals and memos and office chatter and so on. A lot of Lightning's user interface details are irritating to use because a lot of the keyboard and a few of the mouse features don't behave as expected. A lot of people don't care about such things but for me that's a deal-breaker because it keeps tripping me up and cuts into productivity. But at least they are on the right track and worth keeping an eye on. If the Lightning team were to continue expanding the feature set and if they will refine the user interface so it follows standards under Windows then it could become a great alternative to Outlook someday. I hope that happens.

  11. doingsoso
    January 17, 2010 at 8:19 am

    I dunno what the problem is that people have with Thunderbird. It's a great email client. And it does have a calendar. You just have to download it as an add on. Mine works great.

    I used Outlook express until my vision got really bad and the glare of the white background made it impossible for me to read amail.

    Thunderbird is fully customizable, and I can change the background to black with any color and size font that I need, and enlarging the font is just a matter of hitting the control and + keys.

    I am more satisfied with Thunderbird due to my ability to customize it to my needs rather than having a one size fits all format thrust down my throat by the almighty all knowing MS conglomerate.

    I've also enjoyed Incredimail:)

    I hate windows mail with a passion.

    You'd think with the price you pay for their OS that MS would have updated Outlook Express. But they really want to force people to use their "Live" junk. And it's about as "Live" as a 1000 year old mummy. That's why I figure they diodn't upgrade Outlook Express and added a crappy email client to Vista. Yuck! And from what I understand they didn't upgrade Outlook Express in Windows 7 either.

    I've got XP on my box, and I'm going to hang onto it as long as I can.

    • Chigot
      December 18, 2014 at 2:06 pm

      Thunderbird has no mail management: put the incoming in pre-order folder. And also no archive folders.

  12. Sari
    November 10, 2009 at 1:16 am

    I use Outlook (at Work) and Thunderbird (for Personal). For me, the biggest selling point for Outlook is the Task Management; I have yet seen other application that lets you assign and track Tasks, using online/offline synchronization method, that integrates with other productivity tools (email, calendar, contacts).

  13. Mike
    November 4, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    So far I see no comments addressing what in my opinion is the most compelling reason to use Outlook in the first place, namely its integrated calendar, task, reminder and organizer features. A lot of my professional acquaintences over the years use Outlook for those features more than for email.

    If you want to compare apples to apples, compare Outlook Express (not Outlook) with other email readers. If you want to compare Outlook with alternatives you need to include a caomparison of the features that distinguish Outlook from a mere email reader and which make it a great productivity tool.

    I would love to find an open source alternative to Outlook that truly provides a replacement for its best features, but so far I know of absolutely none. The above-mentioned so-called alternatives are actually only alternatives to Outlook Express, they are not viable alternatives to Outlook.

  14. William
    November 4, 2009 at 8:21 am

    Although its not as powerful as Outlook, theres an e-mail client called Element Mail, which sure does stand up very well next to it!

    If this had appointments and a calender, I think it would make a very good alternative to Outlook.

    Its freeware though, not open source which is a shame :(

    Web link:

  15. Xaib
    November 4, 2009 at 2:03 am

    Another 2 good free alternatives are emClient ( and Opera Mail.
    Hope you will like this.

  16. Ray
    November 3, 2009 at 8:51 pm

    Are you serious? Thunderbird better than Outlook? I'll have whatever you're drinking.

  17. Ateiyev
    November 3, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    The comparisons all seem slanted against Outlook. Outlook is indeed a very good email client. Because the others are free doesn't make them better. Be more objective in your comparisons please.

  18. Matt Goldberg
    November 3, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    Thunderbird? As anything other than an e-mail client? You're joking, right?

    Thunderbird still needs to create an address book that isn't worthless and lacks a calendar feature (unless you want to try and integrate the very rough Lightning). It's a solid e-mail client and that's why I use it instead of Outlook's, but let's not pretend that Thunderbird is an all-in-one that's a true alternative to Outlook.

  19. cu_shane
    November 3, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    You forgot emClient. Great email client. And it's free.

  20. sannyb
    November 3, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    There are still some fields that are not covered that great with the proposed alternatives.
    First of all, synchronization with devices still works best when using Outlook. Google has some nice things going but I still can't synchronize my DECT phone with it.
    Second, the spell and grammar check in all alternatives is at best mediocre. Actually it's nothing more than a very cheap dictionary lookup while Office provides a very solid checker.
    Third, Outlook is also very extensible and offers some nice automations.

    Finally, putting only "price and open source" in a comparison table is not very helpful. Especially as "open sources" implies "free as in freedom AND free as in beer" and as such is a bit redundant.

  21. Frank
    November 3, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    I normally use the Opera browser and this comes with a free email client called M2.

    This is a very simple client, nothing special besides the fact that it also can read Newsgroups, but I love having my internet browser and email client integrated in the same interface.

  22. esr
    November 3, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    interesting write-up

    I'm actually using a combination of the above-

    Gmail is set as the everything storage & archive-
    that is it is set to go out & retrieve from my other accounts, and I use it's spam filtering. Outlook is on my pc, and is configured to touch gmail only. Works very well, and is it's built in redundancy with my pst file located on a secondary partition and regularly backed up itself.

  23. mikehird
    November 3, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    Just a note on "outlook Express" - this ceased to be Microsoft's free email client with Vista, when it was replaced by "Mail." Win 7 lets you find your own.

  24. Judith O
    November 3, 2009 at 10:32 am

    One thing that outlook does that none of these do is FULLY integrate Microsoft Office into the email client which is really important if you work in a corporate environment. It works flawlessly with SharePoint services as well. That's something that no one else can boast of.

    The UI as well.... is familiar to what people are used to working with. By the way, i've used all the email clients above extensively. I'm a huge open source proponent but outlook has its perks.

    If you don't care about any of those, I advise you stick to GMAIL.

    • Tina
      November 3, 2009 at 11:21 am


      thank you very much for the elaborate comment!

      I agree that currently no free alternative can replace Outlook in a corporate environment, where you either have to use it for what it does or are simply used to working with it.

      On the other hand, the free alternatives themselves provide options that are not available in Outlook. Personally, I find these features a lot more interesting and valuable than for example MS Office integration. :|

      And let's be honest, who needs MS Office or SharePoint, when there are free alternatives. ;)

      • Shubham
        November 3, 2009 at 11:48 am

        Correct Tina ! Although in the corporate world rules but i dont see that day far when all companies will shift to open source and free software.As far as small companies are concerned ... they live on open source software !

        • Shubham
          November 3, 2009 at 11:49 am

          srry i meant to say in the corporate world Microsoft rules !