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How the Windows 8.1 Metro Mail App Compares to Other Mail Apps

Metro Mail in Windows 8.1 has its benefits, but it may not best suit your needs. Complicating the situation: Metro Mail isn’t an either/or choice. For example, you can set up Hotmail/Outlook.com or Gmail accounts, and then use either Metro Mail to work with the accounts or the Internet-based interfaces at Hotmail and Gmail.

In fact, you can jump back and forth between working online at the sites and working on your Windows computer.

Metro Mail functions as a gathering point: It pulls in mail from Hotmail/Outlook.com, for example, and sends out mail through Hotmail/Outlook.com. It pulls in and sends out mail through Gmail. But when it’s working right, Metro Mail doesn’t destroy the mail: All your messages are still sitting there waiting for you in Hotmail/Outlook.com or Gmail.

Although there are some subtleties, in most cases, you can use Mail in the morning, switch over to Gmail or Hotmail/Outlook.com when you get to the office, and go back to the tiled Metro Mail app when you get home — and never miss a thing.

As currently configured, Metro Mail can pull in mail from Hotmail/Outlook.com, Gmail, or Exchange Server (a typical situation at a large office or if you use one of the Office 365 business editions), Yahoo! Mail and AOL Mail, as well as IMAP (a method supported by some Internet service providers).

It’s becoming more and more clear that Microsoft has no intention of supporting the POP3 e-mail protocol. POP3 is the oldest and least capable of the e-mail interfaces, but it’s also the most widely used. Most major Internet service providers that support POP3 also support IMAP, but not all of them. So if your mail provider only speaks POP3, you’d be well advised to avoid Metro Mail.

(Alternatively, if you absolutely must use Metro Mail, consider setting up a free Outlook.com account, set it up to retrieve your POP3 mail, and then set up Metro Mail to get the mail from the Outlook.com account. Meh.)

You can add your Hotmail/Outlook.com account to Gmail, or add your Gmail account to Hotmail/Outlook.com. In fact, you can add just about any e-mail account to either Hotmail/Outlook.com or Gmail. If you’re thinking about moving to Metro Mail just because it can pull in mail from multiple accounts, realize that Gmail and Hotmail/Outlook.com can do the same thing.

The main benefit to using Metro Mail rather than Hotmail/Outlook.com or Gmail is that the tiled Metro Mail app stores your most recent messages on your computer. (Gmail running on the Google Chrome browser can do the same thing.) If you can’t get to the Internet, you can’t download new messages or send responses, but at least you can look at your most recent messages.

Some people prefer the Metro Mail interface over Gmail or Hotmail/Outlook.com. Decide for yourself. De gustibus and all that. Moreover, the interfaces change all the time, so if you haven’t looked in the last year or so, it’d be worth the effort to fire up your web browser and have a look-see.

Hotmail/Outlook.com and Gmail are superior to Metro Mail in these respects:

  • Hotmail/Outlook.com and Gmail have all your mail, all the time — or at least the mail that you archive. If you look for something old, you may or may not find it with Metro Mail — by default, Metro Mail only holds your mail from the past two weeks, and it doesn’t automatically reach out to Hotmail/Outlook.com or Gmail to run searches.

  • Gmail and Hotmail/Outlook.com pack a lot more information on the screen. Although Mail has been tuned for touch, with big blocks set aside to make an all-thumbs approach feasible and lots of white space, Hotmail/Outlook.com and Gmail are still much more mouse-friendly.

But wait! Many, many more options exist in the mail game. To wit:

  • Microsoft Outlook: Bundled with Office since pterodactyls powered PCs, Outlook has an enormous number of options — many of them confusing, most of them never used — but it’s also the only app that can handle hundreds of thousands of messages. Outlook’s the Rolls Royce of the e-mail biz, with all the positive and negative connotations.

  • In fact, among the many, many different versions of Outlook, each has its own foibles. Many people settled on Outlook 2007 because that’s the last version without the Office Ribbon.

  • The Outlook Web App: It isn’t really Outlook, but Microsoft marketing wants you to believe that it is. It’s part of Exchange Server (or some versions of Office 365), so companies with big iron can let their employees access their mail without using Outlook.

  • Windows Live Mail: It’s still alive and kicking, although it’s going through a name change. For people who don’t want to jump into the tiled side of Windows 8.1 with both feet (and fingers) — particularly those who feel more comfortable working with a mouse and an information-dense screen — it’s a respectable, free alternative, and it works great with Windows 8.1.

  • Free, open-source, inexpensive alternatives: These include Mozilla Thunderbird, SeaMonkey, Eudora, and many more that have enthusiastic fan bases.

  • Your Internet service provider (ISP): It may well have its own e-mail package. The service generally doesn’t hold a candle to Gmail, Outlook.com/Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, or any of the dozens of competitive e-mail providers. If you use ISP-based e-mail, mail2web lets you get into just about any mailbox from just about anywhere — if you know the password.

The iPad Mail app has many of the problems that Metro Mail exhibits, but it has a host of advantages, including most notably the ability to easily merge inboxes so you don’t have to flip between accounts to read all your incoming messages.

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