As awesome as Microsoft Outlook can be, there are good reasons to consider an alternative. Maybe it offers too many features you’ll never use. Perhaps you can’t afford the $110 price tag. Or you simply don’t want to indulge in Microsoft’s confusing mess of email products.
So what are your best options?
There are some who say that all desktop email clients are bad and should be replaced with web apps. Others, myself included, believe that web apps can’t match the power and versatility of desktop email clients. Therefore, in this article, we’ll focus on the latter.
Like Microsoft Outlook, EssentialPIM is more than just an email client: it’s a personal information manager (hence the name). It aims to be a one-stop shop for handling all of your communications and tasks in one central location. This streamlines and eases your workflow.
The email component of EssentialPIM is exactly what you’d expect: sleek, modern, and functional, with a layout reminiscent of almost every other desktop email client you’ve used before. The free version has all the basic features:
- Unlimited number of email accounts.
- Folders and filters for flexible email organization.
- Import and export formats: XML, CSV, iCal, vCard, and more.
- Synchronization with Android and iOS.
Upgrading to the Pro version can unlock much more:
- Synchronization pack: Google, Outlook, iCloud, and more.
- AES 256-bit encryption for advanced security and privacy.
- Advanced backups so you never lose data.
- Threads that group related emails into conversations.
- Professional and customizable email templates.
To learn more, check out the full comparison of Free vs. Pro. And in addition to email, EssentialPIM has Calendar, Tasks, Notes, Contacts, and Password management features.
For $2 per month or $20 per year, you can get an EssentialPIM Cloud plan that stores and synchronizes all of the non-email features above. It’s securely encrypted, acts as a backup, and allows you to access your data from anywhere with just a web browser.
One final note: EssentialPIM comes in a portable version, which you can load onto a USB flash drive or external hard drive and use on any computer. Great for students and those who travel often.
Thunderbird is completely free and open source. It suffers a bit in the interface and aesthetics department but excels in terms of features and functionality. If you want an information management solution without any restrictions or cost, this is the one for you.
Thunderbird has a number of features that make it a suitable choice as a Microsoft Outlook replacement:
- Tabbed emails for managing multiple conversations.
- An address book that’s extremely easy to use and manage.
- Smart folders and filters for productive organization.
- Advanced search features to find the exact emails you need.
- PGP encryption to keep your emails safe and private.
- Built-in Lightning extension that grants calendar functionality.
Though Thunderbird development was officially deprioritized in 2012, it still receives updates as of this writing. You can also add additional features through third-party addons.
Download: Thunderbird (Free)
If you want something like Thunderbird but not quite the same, consider SeaMonkey. It shares a history with Thunderbird in that they’re both derived from the Mozilla Application Suite. However, it differs in that SeaMonkey is community-developed instead of Mozilla-driven.
Download: SeaMonkey (Free)
Wait a minute. Gmail isn’t a desktop email client!
While that’s technically true, you’ll be surprised to know that Gmail can be used in “desktop mode” with a few easy tweaks. In fact, when used in this way, Gmail ends up being better than most other desktop-based solutions (except in complex business environments).
Truth is, Gmail can be set up to replicate many desktop client features and functions. For example:
- Create a desktop shortcut and run in its own window.
- Automatically associate and open email links.
- Switch between multiple email accounts.
- Access and read emails even when offline.
- Organize emails using labels and filters.
- Navigate using keyboard shortcuts.
If you want to give it a shot, check out our guide to setting up Gmail as a desktop email client. It’s very easy and only takes a few minutes. There’s a chance that it won’t be “desktop enough” for you, but more likely you’ll love it and even prefer it to traditional clients. And by the way, you can forward your Outlook emails to Gmail.
And as a Google user, Gmail makes it easy to stay integrated with Google’s other productivity web apps, including the ever-useful Google Calendar, the lightweight Google Keep for tasks, and my personal favorite, the convenient Google Docs suite.
Website: Gmail (Free)
Other Notable Mentions
Windows 10 Mail: Though not as advanced or complex enough to replace a powerhouse like Microsoft Outlook, the Mail app that’s built into Windows 10 can be more than enough for casual users. You might be surprised by all of the Mail app’s nifty features.
eM Client: A slick and beautiful email client with built-in calendar, tasks, and chat features. But the free version for personal use is limited to 2 email accounts, which will be too restrictive for most users. The Pro version costs $50, which is a bit steep.
Zimbra Desktop: One of the few desktop email clients that’s truly free and open source. Unfortunately, it does feel like an open source app with its outdated interface and sluggish performance. However, it’s packed full of excellent features like synchronization and a calendar, so don’t underestimate it.
Important Email Tips to Keep in Mind
Regardless of which email client you choose, there are a handful of tips that you should heed to make your life easier.
First, email security is crucial. This isn’t just a matter of privacy — a hacked email account can lead to other accounts being hacked, including bank and e-commerce accounts. Second, learn how to be efficient with email. Third, don’t let email stress you out.
What don’t you like about Microsoft Outlook? What other email client are you using instead? Are there any good ones that we missed? Share with us in the comments below!
Originally written by Tina Sieber on 3 November 2009.