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Definition: email interfaces

There are two ways to compose and retrieve email. The first way is using a Web browser and the second is to use a locally installed application such as Outlook.

Method 1 - Webmail - From Anywhere
Also called "online email" or "cloud mail," Webmail is a Web-based email service from Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft and other providers that is accessible from any Web browser. The distinct advantage is that messages can be sent and retrieved from any Internet-connected computer in the world.

Method 2 - Installed Program - Tied to a Computer
The use of an email program installed in the user's computer, such as Windows Mail, Mac Mail or Outlook, is the legacy approach but one that generally offers more features. Called an "email client," the disadvantage is that the email interface a person becomes familiar with is tied to the machine the software is installed in. To send and retrieve mail from another computer using that same application, one has to install the app in the second computer, configure the mail settings as well as import the address book, boilerplate and signatures from the first computer.

People very often use both methods: any computer when on the road and their favorite email client when at their desktop computer.

Mobile Devices
Like desktop computers, phone and tablet users have the same choices: Web browser or installed app. However, apps are preferable because they make better use of small screens and are easy to download and install. Whether browser or app, the messages for mobile users are stored in the cloud.

Free May Have Limitations
Free email services are supported by advertising and may have limits such as a cap on the number of messages that can be archived or the size of attachments. Paid versions with greater storage and fewer restrictions may be an option.

Keep Your Email Address Forever!
If you change your email provider, you have a change-of-address problem and have to notify everyone you want to stay in contact with. The way to solve that for good is to register your own domain name and have an Internet service provider (ISP) host your mail service so that me@myname.com is yours even if you switch to another ISP. See email service, email domain, POP3 and IMAP4.