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Reviews of mail reading software

On this page we review several program for reading e-mail. The programs reviewed are intended to allow you to read your mail locally on your system, often downloading new email and integrating it into a local database. You can also use a standard web browser and read your mail on services, such as gmail, hotmail, and yahoo, but the services are described on the services page. Here we discuss Outlook, Thunderbird, Eudora, and Gnu Emacs.


Outlook is one of the most widely used local applications for reading email. It is part of the Microsoft Office suite of programs, and combines a calendar, address book, mail reading program, and other features. I have found it acceptable for reading smail mailboxes, but if you tend to keep a lot of mail and don't sort it into small folders, the size of the mailbox folder can sometimes cause problems. I have lost folders in the past due to corruption, and I beleive the size of the folders was a contributing factor.

There have also been many security vulnerabilities related to the use of outlook for email. While those that have been disclosed have been patched, but the problem is an ongoing one since many of those writing malicious code target more widely used applications, such as outlook. Many of these kinds of vulnerabilities can be addressed with restrictive configuration regarding the kinds of attachements that are displayed,If you choose to use outlook, it is very important that you keep your software up-to-date with the latest patches.

The latest version of outlook can retrieve email using both POP and IMAP protocols, or it may be set up to manage email using the Microsoft Excange server.


Based on the Mozilla web browser, Thurderbird is the program I use to read my mail. Like outlook, it supports POP and IMAP for message retrival. It too has had some vulnerabilities due to malicious email messages, but it is targeted less often than outlook, and in my view, it is much more easily configured to reduce vulnerabilities from many kinds of content. Thunderbird is my recomendation for email reading.


Eudora is another application that, for a long time, was the main alternative to Outlook. Much of its following has been eroded due to the availability of thunderbird, but there is a new open source version of Eudora that is in the works.

Gnu Emacs

If you are a die hard user of emacs for text editing (I use email for most plain text, when I don't need formatting), and if you don't need the ability to view attachements, then Gnu Emaics RMAIL is a good text based mail reading program. I still use RMAIL as a backup mail reading program.


For those of you using varients of Unix, such as Linux, /bin/mail is a very basic text mail reading program. I can not imagine anyone using it as their primary mail program anymore, but it is often used in scripts that send or process mail. It is one of the original mail programs that existed long before todays graphical users interfaces were common.