What is an E-Mail Client?

An e-mail client is an application that runs on your computer that allows you to send, receive, and organize e-mails.  It is called a client because e-mail is set up on a client-server basis, your computer is pulling e-mails to your desktop from a server.  At that point the e-mail can either still be in both places (your computer and the server), or only on your machine (deleted from the server).  How you set this up depends on what you want to do with the e-mail.

How does this differ from Webmail?

With webmail, your messages never leave the server, and you cannot read them unless you have a working Internet connection.  Also, organization and filters can be somewhat limited, webmail programs are HTML based after all, and moving from screen to screen involves server calls.  With an e-mail client, once the messages are downloaded, manipulating them is all done at the local level, which can be much quicker, particularly on less-than-ideal Internet connection speeds.

What do e-mail clients cost?

There are both paid and free versions, most of the free versions are versatile enough you don’t need to pay for one.  The most well known one is Thunderbird, made by the same people who provide Firefox.  There is also a calendar add in for it called Lightening.

Microsoft also has a free program called Live Mail which replaced Outlook Express (which was discontinued with XP).

Yahoo puts out one called Zimbra Desktop which has an added feature of being able to work with the free version of Yahoo Mail (which does not come with POP3)

There are many, many others available, including Sea Monkey, Pegasus, eM client, and Free Mail Client (read more about these here:



POP3 and IMAP4

A full discussion of POP3 (Post Office Protocol) vs IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol is here, shorter version is this:  POP3 is older, works well if you are ONLY receiving your e-mail one one client, and sometimes is the only one your e-mail provider implements.  It is also batch mode, every so-many-minutes your client program will request any new e-mails from your server, it is not real time.

IMAP is newer, synchronizes what you do on multiple devices (like your computer and your cell phone), and is usually the one you are using if you check your mail on your cell phone.

POP3 can be set to delete the e-mails from the server when downloaded, Thunderbird’s default is that they are not unless you move them to local folders (more on that later).  IMAP always stores them on the server until deleted, then will delete the same e-mail from all devices once they have logged in.

Oh, and Microsoft has it’s own format, MAPI, for Exchange.  Unless you are in a business environment with an Exchange Server, you will not be dealing with it.



Setting up an E-Mail Client

I’m going to discuss Thunderbird here, because that is what I use, and I clearly can’t talk about all of them with limited time  Setting up any of the others should be relatively close to the same thing though.

The first thing you have to do of course is download the application and install it.  this is a routine process, google for the program you want to install, find the site that has it, and click the download button.  When the file finishes downloading, go to your downloads folder and click on the file to start the install routine.

thunderbird downloadYou are probably better off downloading the files from the Mozilla Site – It’s a free program, and other places will not charge for it, but may add some other “stuff” in their installers

This is what the download page looks like.  Click the Green Button….

Click on save.  It’s a 25 mb file, how long it takes to download depends on your download speed.  When it is done, go to your downloads directory, and double click the file name to install it.

Setting up an e-mail account

Setting up an e-mail account is generally pretty easy.  You need two things:  The e-mail address, and your password to the account.  That’s it.  Thunderbird is usually pretty good about finding out the rest of the things it will need.  It may sometimes prompt you for other pieces of information like whether or not it should be using POP3 or IMAP.  The worst that will happen if you get anything wrong is that the account will work in Thunderbird until you get them right, so don’t worry about hurting anything.

It will also ask you what name you want to be known as, this can be anything you want, but keep in mind it appears on your e-mail under “sent by”  So if your e-mail address is for example  drqpt.hotmail.com and you give your name as “John Doe, the from line will read John Doe<drqpt.hotmail.com>

If your computer is secure, check the “remember password” box to avoid having to enter it every time you start your computer.  Also, Thunderbird is not able to change the password on the server, it can only change the password it sends for authentication.

By the way, if you don’t have an existing e-mail account, Thunderbird does provide a button to create one with it’s partner.  I don’t know what the limitations of that account are.

This is what it looks like when Thunderbird can determine all the settings it needs.  As long as your password is right (which is the next thing it checks), the account is set up.  If your password was entered wrong, you get a chance to try again.

Account Settings

There are a whole wealth of settings you can play with, but what Thunderbird starts you off with as default work well, so there is no need to change them immediately.  On the account here, you can see that the protocol being used is IMAP, that messages are transmitted encrypted (the SSL/TLS), that it checks for messages when the computer starts up, then every 10 minutes while it is running.

Deleted messages go to the deleted folder, you need to delete them again from there.  You can set it just to delete, but keep in mind there is no recovering the message if you delete it accidentally.  It is deleted from both your machine and the server and will be deleted from any other device the first time it logs into the server.

I would suggest not emptying the Trash on exit for the same reason.  The default is not checked.

That last option “Local Directory” is where exactly your mail is being stored on your computer.  This is important, particularly for local folders, if you are migrating to a new machine.

Along with server settings, you can change settings in 6 other categories.


SPAM settings

You may have noticed the odd message or two from people you are not familiar with trying to interest you in stuff you are not inclined to buy.  Thunderbird gives you a couple of methods for dealing with this.

The first is a setting on the accounts page, which allows you to use a filtering service.  The second is a routine Thunderbird uses where you train it to know the difference between spam and e-mail you want by marking e-mail as junk.  You can also un-mark an e-mail if it is marked “junk incorrectly.

The Local Folder

When Thunderbird sets up, it automatically creates a “Local Folders” section for you.  Any e-mails you put in Local folders is now only on your computer, and have been deleted from the server.  Organization you do under the e-mail account(s) themselves stay both on the server and on your local machine, so you can access them while off-line.

So why would you want to put something in your local folders?

Three reasons

(1) If you are running out of space on the server for your e-mail account, but still want to keep the e-mails, and

(2) If you have sensitive information you do not want to keep on the Internet.  Keep in mind, if someone hacks your e-mail account, they have access to all the e-mails stored there.  They will NOT be able to access the e-mails stored on your computer however.

(3) Also if your e-mail account is breached, and someone deletes your e-mail, while the e-mail is still stored on your local machine, it will be deleted next time you log in when the synchronization occurs.

So that’s the reasons.  In general, if it is not sensitive information, and space is not an issue, don’t put it in your local folder.  One last item:  You are responsible for backing up your computer.  If the hard drive crashes, any of the e-mails that are stored locally will be lost if you don’t have a good backup.  They aren’t on the server anymore.



So Why Do I need an E-mail Client Anyway?

Well, if you get very few e-mails so organization isn’t an issue, have only one e-mail account, and have a decent and reliable Internet Connection, you don’t.  Just use webmail.

However e-mail clients allow you to:

  1. Organize things much more easily
  2. Sort and Group your entire body of e-mails by date received, sender, subject line, and act on large groups of e-mails at one time.
  3. Access multiple e-mail accounts from one place.
  4. Easily move e-mails between accounts (which is important if you ever change e-mail accounts, going from Virginia Broadband to Metrocast for instance)
  5. Control your spam settings

Creating Folders

The first rule of organization is to, well be organized.  Thunderbird allows you to create folders to put e-mail in.  If you have multiple accounts, those folders will be connected to one of those accounts, and any e-mail you put in them will transfer to that server regardless of which account it came from.

If you create a folder with Webmail, and are using IMAP not POP, Thunderbird will also recognize those new folders (as will the webmail program for those created in Thunderbird).

Any subfolders created under the Local Folders Account will move e-mail from the server, and store it on the local machine only.

Sorting and Filtering

Thunderbird will allow you to sort on any heading, just click on the heading desired (you may need to click on it twice depending on whether you want it ascending or descending).  While most Webmail applications will allow you to do this two, results are usually 25 to a page, and you have to click to change the page.  With Thunderbird you have access to all e-mails in a single scroll list.

You can choose multiple emails to move/delete by holding down the shift key, and you can use the arrow keys or the Page/Up Page/Down keys to add e-mails to your selection.  You can also filter the messages on sender, Recipients, Subject, or text in the Body of the message.

Setting Up Rules

Thunderbird allows you to set rules that can move an e-mail when it is received based on who it came from or what the subject was.  This is done automatically on receipt which can be helpful in keeping your inbox organized.  Mail that is moved this way is still marked unread, so you can easily tell what is new in your folders.

In Conclusion

There are plenty of features I haven’t covered, there is a help menu in Thunderbird, and of course Google is your Friend in exploring other documentation.  If there are any features you would like to see added to this presentation, just add them in the comments section.

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