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Email and Instant Messaging (IM) Applications & Utilities May 4, 2009

Posted by twiznc in Email, Product, Services & Software Recommendations.

Updated March 6, 2016

Communications has become a key component of computer usage, primarily via email and Instant Messaging (IM).  This article reviews the various email and IM applications and add-on utilities, and make recommendations based on the personal opinions and experience of the author.


Click here to jump to the program links

When you purchase a new Windows PC, an “email application” is included in the Windows installation.  With Vista and later operating systems, the included email application is “Windows Mail” or “Live Mail”; with prior versions of Windows (including Windows XP) the included email application was “Outlook Express”.  Some users end up using the included email application because it is the “default” email application included with the operating system.  Microsoft Outlook (included with Microsoft Office or purchased separately) is used by many business users as well as home users looking for a more fully-featured email application.  Some users also use the email client provided by their Internet Service Provider (ISP), which may or may not include or consist solely of an online web portal for accessing email.  Some users use one of the many web-based email applications such as Gmail.com, Outlook.com, or YahooMail.com.  And there are other options available (most of them free) which you may want to consider (see below).

Locally Installed Email Applications Versus Web-Based Email (WebMail) Applications – The advantage of using an installed email application (Outlook, Windows Mail, Thunderbird, etc.) is that your “old” email (both sent and received) is always available to you whether or not you have Internet access since it is stored locally on your computer’s hard drive.  A locally installed email application can also be “invoked” by any web link or other installed software so that clicking on an email address “link” opens a new mail message addressed to that email address (not possible with a web-based email application).  Email applications locally installed on your computer often also offer more features and can be more “customized” (with setting changes and “plug-ins) than can be a web-based application.  Web-based email applications offer the advantage of being more easily accessed from any Internet-connected computer, and your email is stored on the provider’s server rather than on your computer’s hard drive, so if you computer’s hard drive crashes your email messages and contacts would not be affected and could be accessed from another Internet-connected computer until your computer is repaired.  Popular web-based email services include Gmail, Yahoo! MailOutlook.com (which works with LiveMail accounts) and AOL Mail.

Program Links

(Click here to jump to the IM section)

Outlook.com – Windows Live Mail is similar to Windows Mail, but has the additional features listed below.  When you download and install Windows Live Mail, you’re also offered the option of downloading and installing other Windows Live programs, including Windows Live Messenger, Windows Live Writer, Windows Live Photo Gallery, and the Windows Live Toolbar and Family Safety software. All the programs you choose are installed at the same time. For more information about these other Windows Live programs, go to the Windows Live Services website.

  • Free access to Windows Live Mail. To sign up for a Live Mail account, go to the Live Mail website.
  • The ability to connect to popular e‑mail services such as Hotmail, Yahoo!, AOL, or Gmail, or to e‑mail from your Internet service provider (ISP).
  • The ability to automatically configure many popular e‑mail services. All you need to do is enter your e‑mail address and Windows Live Mail will automatically enter the correct settings for the e‑mail servers used by that service.

Outlook is included with most (but not all) versions of Microsoft Office, or it can be purchased separately (about $110).  According to Microsoft… “Microsoft Office Outlook provides an integrated solution for managing your time and information, connecting across boundaries, and remaining in control of the information that reaches you. Office Outlook delivers innovations you can use to quickly search your communications, organize your work, and better share your information with others — all from one place.”  Outlook 2016 is also available for Mac users.

Thunderbird (Free) is a “third party” (meaning non-Microsoft) email application for Windows or Mac that includes many features to help you manage your email.  According to their web site… “with Thunderbird 2, it’s easier to prioritize and find your important email with tags and the new find bar helps you find content within your email faster.”  A free add-in for Thunderbird, called Lightning, integrates an Outlook-type calendar into Thunderbird.  Click here to view all of the add-ons available for Thunderbird.  Note: Thunderbird can import data from Outlook for those Outlook users who want to switch to Thunderbird.

Because of the constant threat of viruses and spyware, regardless of which email application you choose, you should take steps to be insure the safety of your email activities and be sure you run an anti-virus program and keep it up-to-date.  Opening the wrong email message (or attachment) is a prime source of virus infections.

Once you decide on which email application is best for you you may want to consider using a SPAM Filter to filter out junk email messages from your inbox.  Click here for our article that discussing the SPAM problem and offers several solutions (many of them are FREE).



From wiseGEEK.com:  “Instant messaging, or IM in Internet slang, consists of sending real time messages to another Internet user. Instant messaging is comparable to chatting in your own private chat room, with only those people you choose to invite. You can create a list to keep track of welcome guests and alert you when one of them sends you a message. Instant messaging is a bit more private than a typical chat room, and it is a much faster and simpler way to communicate than using email. Since instant messaging allows users to communicate in real time, users can respond quickly to questions or comments. Instant messaging is a great way to stay in touch with family members and friends while saving money on your long distance phone bills. As with any online activity, caution should be exercised with messaging. It is not a good idea to add people to your list unless you know something about them. Children should be supervised carefully when instant messaging and should never add someone to their list or agree to be added to anyone else’s list without approval from their parents. Predators have been known to use instant messaging as well as chat rooms to seek out victims, so while IM may seem safer, it is not without risks.  It is also possible to obtain viruses, worms, and Trojan horses through messaging, so care should be taken when accepting any files. Also, don’t type anything that you wouldn’t want shared with others, since IM’s can be captured and the text can be saved. Even though messaging sessions seem private, they are really not any more secure than your average email. Instant messaging can be a lot of fun and it is a great way to communicate, but like anything else, it should be used with care.”

The most popular IM programs (all of them FREE) include Microsoft’s Skype, AIM (AmericaOnline Instant Messaging)Yahoo Messenger, Google Hangouts, and ICQ.

Pidgin (Free) is an Open Source IM/Chat program which lets you log in to accounts on multiple chat networks simultaneously. This means that you can be chatting with friends on MSN, talking to a friend on Google Talk, and sitting in a Yahoo chat room all at the same time.  Pidgin is compatible with the Google Talk, AIM, Bonjour, ICQ, and many more with available plugins.  Pidgin supports many features of these chat networks, such as file transfers, away messages, buddy icons, custom smilies, and typing notifications. Numerous plugins also extend Pidgin’s functionality above and beyond the standard features.  Pidgin is a free, legal, safe (Open Source) application and contains no ads.

Trillian (Free (advertising supported), or $20/year or $60/lifetime) is a more fully featured, stand-alone, skinnable chat client that supports Google Talk, Facebook, AIM, ICQ, Yahoo Messenger, and more. It provides capabilities not possible with original network clients, while supporting standard features such as audio chat, file transfers, group chats, chat rooms, buddy icons, multiple simultaneous connections to the same network, server-side contact importing, typing notification, direct connection (AIM), proxy support, encrypted messaging (AIM/ICQ), SMS support, and privacy settings.  Trillian provides unique functionality such as contact message history, a powerful skinning language, tabbed messaging, global status changes (set all networks away at once), Instant Lookup (automatic Wikipedia integration), contact alerts, an advanced automation system to trigger events based on anything happening in the client, docking, hundreds of emoticons, emotisounds, shell extensions for file transfers, and systray notifications.

Click here for more Consumer Guides and Recommendations.



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