Basic webmail services that come standard with web hosting accounts may suffice for light or regular email communications, but may prove inadequate when heavier use is required for professional or business contexts. The following are some potential drawbacks to web hosting email, and how you can circumvent them through the simple use of a locally installed email client such as Thunderbird or Outlook.
Inability to Work Offline
Because webmail is accessed entirely within the browser, a reliable underlying Internet connection is required to view messages and write new emails. With a locally installed email client, new emails are downloaded and stored on your laptop or desktop from the web-hosting provider's email server. Then you can view emails with or without an internet connection. And when composing emails offline, you can create and queue drafts for future delivery when an internet connection is available again.
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Webmail on Slow Internet Connections
Since web hosted mail is essentially a web application designed for sending, receiving and composing emails, suboptimal internet connections directly impact the user interface and your resulting user experience (UX). If the underlying connection is slow, UX elements may not load properly or at all -- severely diminishing the functionality of the application. Furthermore, slow loading and processing times may impact the ability of webmail to accomplish tasks like sending and receiving email.
No Local Backup Options
Since messages are not stored locally on your laptop or computer, no recovery options exist if the web host permanently goes offline or experiences data loss. Because emails are stored on the provider's server, users are basically at the whim of the web hosting email provider.
Webmail was designed to be lightweight and efficient, so file attachments are usually limited to a certain size (usually 5-10 MB). This is problematic when sending large documents, music, or video files, as web email hosts will typically block file attachments that exceed the limits.
Limited User Interface and Customization Options
More often, standard webmail allows for very little (or no) customization options. Again, since webmail is designed to be lightweight, utilitarian, and general purpose, advanced configuration of look-and-feel elements is not usually an option for users.
Webmail renders poorly (if at all) on mobile devices, since most webmail interfaces are designed for standard screens. Even tablets have some degree of difficulty displaying webmail interfaces provided by web hosting email providers.
When more robust capabilities are required, several options exist to get the most out of your hosting email account. Setting up access to your email host through a desktop email client is the most cost-effective (often free) option, and only requires the download and installation of the email client of your choice. Once the email software is installed, you'll need to configure your email client to connect directly to the email host via POP3 or IMAP -- the two main protocols for email communications -- to send and receive emails.
For reviews of web hosting providers that provide such options, please check out our web hosting company reviews.