E-mail: How can I get a free version of Outlook?

Listener question:

I purchased a new computer at Best Buy and windows software they sold me doesn't have outlook express.  My daughter suggested a free program but i don't know which to choose.  It would cost another $100 to download outlook.  I'm frustrated.


I don't mean to sound snarky, but don't use Outlook. Outlook is what we call client-based e-mail, which means that every e-mail message you receive is downloaded onto your computer before you can read it. The problem is that using a client-based service means your only line of defense between the viruses that are attached to a lot of e-mail and your computer is your anti-virus software.

Your question came from a Gmail account. We have repeatedly advocated using webmail services (like Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and Hotmail) to handle all incoming e-mail. That's because they do a much better job of protecting your computer from inbound e-mail viruses than you could do. First of all, they filter the spam before it reaches your computer. If I were a betting man, I'd wager that 95% or more of viruses and Trojan horses that cross the Internet are attached to spam, rather than to legitimate messages you send and receive from family and friends. So, if you can filter out the spam before it gets to your computer, you've done 95% of the work.

Second, webmail services usually include automatic virus-checking. That's because it doesn't do them any good to have customers whose computers are full of viruses, either. You shouldn't rely on automatic virus-checking through a webmail service for all of your protection -- you should use your own anti-virus software, too -- but having a free second layer of protection certainly doesn't hurt.

Third, webmail services make you stop before trying to download attachments. Using a client-based program may give you instant access to attachments, but it also gives those attachments instant access to your computer. When those attachments include viruses and Trojan horses (which they sometimes do), it's far better to have to take an extra step to make sure that you know what you're downloading -- and that you're running the download past your antivirus software -- than to risk ruining your computer with malware.

So, the bottom line is this: Use a webmail service unless you absolutely must have a client-based program (say, for instance, if it's required for work). If you have absolutely no choice in the matter and have to use a client-based e-mail program, Thunderbird is a free, open-source alternative to Outlook.

For more tips, tune in to the WHO Radio Wise Guys this Saturday at noon on Newsradio 1040 WHO.

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This page contains a single entry by Brian Gongol published on January 25, 2010 5:07 PM.

Antivirus gone awry? is the next entry in this blog.

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