The two interfaces
An email server stores, receives and sends email on our behalf. Most of us manage our email accounts in one of two ways. Either via a web interface or via an email client. The advantage of accessing our email via a web interface as in Yahoo!, Hotmail, Gmail etc is that there is only one copy of our mail folders (so no problems with copies being out of sync) and mostly we preview everything before downloading.
Low bandwidth access
Because this form of access is so bandwidth friendly, webmail services such as Yahoo!, Hotmail, Gmail etc are able to offer us such accounts for free. Of course, these DO cost money to operate but the expense is defrayed by the fact that these sites gain traction and hence can benefit by offering account holders related products and services. At the very least, the high level of engagement generates a commensurate number of ad impressions.
High bandwidth access
The advantage of accessing our email account via an email client (POP/IMAP access) is that we can read and reply to our mail offline. This can help those who have time-based Internet access plans or those who have their own computer but no Internet access. Because an email client must synchronize mails offline, the process tends to be heavy on the bandwidth requirements and fundamentally inefficient because even unwanted mails and attachments get synchronized.
Though it IS possible to preview headers and synchronise only selected emails, most people do not bother using such features. This is the reason such bandwidth heavy access is usually a premium feature. For instance, Yahoo! Mail charges $20 per year for POP access.
Hotmail / Live Mail allows POP access but only via their recently introduced Windows Live Mail Desktop software. So in a sense, POP access is conditional but at least it is possible.
Gmail is the best service in this regard. Right from the time it was introduced, Gmail has offerred free POP access. We are free to use any email client and synchronize all we want without spending a dime.
In POP access, there is an option to leave a copy of the mails on the server. This option lets us decide whether we want to manage our email account via both the web interface and email client OR via only the email client.
It makes sense to have both options open. So it is advisable to tick the option for leaving a copy of the mails on the server. This way when our email client synchronises mail, we essentially mirror the mail folders of our email account on our computer.
Recently, thanks to the proliferation of USB pendrives, there has been a growing trend towards portable apps exemplified by the award winning site PortableApps.com. A portable app stores its configuration information in a local .ini file as opposed to storing it in the computer’s registry. This allows fully configured apps to be used in different computers (with different registries, obviously) because the configuration information is stored locally.
Mozilla, the creators of the hugely popular Firefox browser also provide us with a very decent email client called Thunderbird. Thanks to PortableApps.com, we can enjoy the portable version of Mozilla Thunderbird. We can set this up on our USB pendrive and use it from any computer with a USB port and Net access, be it in an office or cyber cafe or at home.
To download the portable version of Mozilla Thunderbird, click here:
File size: 6.7MB (download), ~25MB (installed)
The setup instructions are available here:
After downloading and setting up Mozilla Thunderbird, we need to download the Webmail and Gmail extensions from:
As of now, the direct links are:
But please do not click on the above two direct links. Direct linking is something to be avoided. Besides, the versions of these extensions can change at any time. Instead, click here to download the said extensions:
After adding the above extensions, when we start Thunderbird Portable, the Create Account Wizard would greet us with the option of setting up a Gmail account, among others. All we need to do is to add our name and Gmail username and the account becomes ready for use. Of course, we can click on settings and customize it further.
Please note that we need to ensure that POP access has been enabled in our Gmail account online. Click here for instructions.
Click Tips: Webmail back-up
Windows Live Mail Desktop
File size: 2.3MB (download)