What are the best free alternatives to Microsoft Outlook?

Microsoft Outlook is one of the biggest and well-known email applications, used by everybody from home users to multinational companies. But while it may be the most popular email client, it doesn't come cheap!

Email doesn't have to end with Outlook: depending on your needs, other email clients could provide a perfect subsitute. Here are some of the best free alternatives to Microsoft Outlook.

Free Outlook Alternatives

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Windows Mail

 
 
 
 
Windows Mail

Pros

  • Beautiful user interface
  • Simple and easy to navigate
  • Comes bundled with Windows Latest version still has a few bugs

Cons

  • Very basic functionality
  • No support for POP email accounts in older versions
  • Since Windows 8, Microsoft have bundled 'Mail' into the operating system for free

The features vary depending on which version of Windows you’re using, but all of them integrate with Windows 'People' and 'Calendar' apps, giving you quick access to your contacts and appointments. The interface is sleek and easy to use across all versions, and adding an account is easy; just select the type of account you have and sign in with your email address and password.

The  downside is that older versions of Mail don’t support POP-based email accounts. These days, it’s not a widely used format (and if you’re not sure what type of account you have, contact your email provider) but all the same, it’s another good reason to upgrade to Windows 10.

eM Client

 
 
 
 
EM Client

Pros

  • Fully-featured free version
  • Fast, useful search function
  • Highly customisable appearance
  • This one comes recommended by our readers

Cons

  • Tech support requires the Pro edition
  • Sheer number of features may overwhelm some users
  • Can display a lot of notifications when it has trouble connecting to services
  • It’s a fully-featured email client that’s remarkably easy to use and integrates easily with just about any email account

The interface is highly customisable; as well as being able to rearrange the different windows and panes to your liking, you can also choose from a number of different themes - from a clean and modern look to a more traditional Outlook-esque appearance. And if that’s not enough, you can also download any number of third-party themes.

Beyond its good looks, eM Client has every feature you’d want from an email client. It supports all major email services, including Gmail, Exchange, iCloud and Outlook.com. The process for importing your data and contacts is quick and painless, and it also features a fast and powerful search function: ideal for tracking down those elusive messages if you’ve got a full inbox!

Add integrated calendar and contacts managers, and you’ve got a client that can function as a full Outlook replacement. The free version contains all the important features, but the £29.95 Pro edition allows commercial use, more than two email accounts and professional tech support – although there’s also community support for free users, so you'll never be stuck for help.

Windows Live Mail

 
 
 
 
Windows Live Mail

Pros

  • Quick and easy
  • Seamless integration with Live accounts
  • Great search feature

Cons

  • No smart folders
  • No support for labels or tags
  • Uses its own file type

WLM can handle most email accounts easily, and also easily integrates with the other elements of the Windows Live package, such as Calendar, Photo Gallery and so on.

That said, Windows Live Mail doesn't include Outlook features like smart folders or tagging, which lets it down a little in terms of productivity. There are also no templates to use, and it can be hard to export messages from the program as it uses its own file format. That's great if you're exporting to another instance of WLM, but not so great if you're moving over to another mail client.

However, if you're after a basic email client that gives you quick and easy access to your mail, then very few programs can beat Windows Live Mail.

Thunderbird

 
 
 
 
Thunderbird Mail

Pros

  • Loads of advanced features
  • Add-ons and themes allow lots of customisation
  • Supports importing emails from lots of other clients

Cons

  • Can be a little difficult to configure
  • May offer too many options for the average user
  • Not the best-looking client by default

You may have heard of Mozilla's Firefox, the alternative web browser many people prefer to Internet Explorer. Well Firefox is to Internet Explorer what Thunderbird is to Outlook – an alternative email client specifically designed to replace Microsoft's software.

Thunderbird is a much more advanced email program than many of the others we've discussed, and has many features that even Outlook doesn’t support. Its advanced security and privacy options would be ideal for business email users or anyone particularly concerned about their personal data.

Anyone familiar with Firefox will know it has a huge range of add-ons and customisations, and Thunderbird is no different. There's an online store with hundreds of free extensions that add extra themes and functions to customise the look of the program.

Mailbird

 
 
 
 
Mailbird email

Pros

  • Designed to be as fast as possible
  • Slick, easy-to-use interface
  • App store allows customisation

Cons

  • Free version features adverts
  • You can't edit or disable keyboard shortcuts
  • Some bugs exist

Mailbird is a very highly regarded email client which gets great reviews from users and industry experts alike. It's designed to be as fast as possible, and its interface is simple and easy to use. Like Thunderbird, it also has an app store which lets you customise it to your liking.

However, it's by no means perfect. For a long time, Mailbird couldn't support POP-based email providers – although this is now fixed in the latest versions. The free version also has adverts, but these are simply displayed in the menu bars rather than attached to your outgoing emails, so it’s not too much of a problem.

 
 
 
 
Inky email client

Pros

  • Supports both POP and IMAP
  • Features auto-setup
  • Great-looking interface

Cons

  • No Exchange support
  • Features are a little limited compared to Outlook
  • Filters can over-complicate things

Inky is a relatively new program, but one that's been very well received. We're not sure it's possible for an email program to be truly beautiful – but Inky is by far the best-looking email program we've seen.

Not only is Inky attractive, it’s also packed with features. It supports both POP and IMAP accounts, can automatically set up loads of different email providers and even sync your settings from one PC to another with an Inky username and password.

It’s also great for more advanced users as it has a huge range of different filters to organise your emails. Some of these are perhaps a little overly specific – like Maps, which separates out any emails that have a postal address within them – but filters are a great way of cutting out the junk and getting to the emails you need. One possible downside for business users, though, is that it doesn’t support Exchange email accounts at the moment.

Another drawback is that after a 14-day free trial, Inky is only free for users of the three most popular free email providers: Gmail, iCloud or Outlook.com. Users of other services will need to pay a $5 per month subscription – which means, of course, that it's no longer a free alternative to Outlook.

Webmail

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Gmail webmail

Pros

  • Quick and easy
  • Can be accessed from any PC or smartphone
  • Most providers are free

Cons

  • You may need to log in every time
  • Features and usability will vary from provider to provider
  • Functions like calendars and contacts management aren't always as functional as in desktop software

Webmail simply refers to a website you can use to access your emails. All email providers – whether it's your ISP, a free provider like Gmail or a privately hosted account – will have some sort of webmail service you can use.

The biggest advantage of webmail is that it doesn’t require any special software; you just visit the correct website and sign in with email address and password. This means you can access your email from any PC in the world and you’ll get exactly the same service as if you'd logged in at home.

For many people, webmail is the quickest and easiest way of accessing your email – we recommend you give this a go before you start experimenting with programs like Outlook and the other alternatives below.

Conclusion

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As you can see, there is a huge range of email programs to choose from. For the basic user, webmail or a simple client like Windows Live Mail or Inky may be all you need. For the more advanced users, applications like eM Client, Thunderbird or Mailbird have you covered. The great thing is that all these programs are free – so why not download one and give it a go?

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