Four desktop email clients that can improve your Gmail experience

Not wild about using Gmail in your browser? You don't have to. These free desktop clients give you a better interface and more options.

I don't like Gmail...I love Gmail. But I'm not wild about using it from within my Web browser, as I find the interface, well, lacking. (Unattractive and unintuitive are two words that come to mind.)

Sure, I can tolerate it if I have to, but I find that I work much better within the confines of a more traditional desktop mail program.

For years that program was Outlook, but I think that's overkill for most home users, and I certainly don't like having to buy Microsoft Office just to get it.

Consequently, I've spent a lot of time investigating consumer-friendly Outlook alternatives. Here's a rundown of four programs you might want to use with Gmail instead of Gmail proper:

1. eM Client 5

The newly updated eM Client is one of my favorite mail programs. It now supports Windows 8 and includes an auto-archiving feature, mail backup and restore, an improved calendar, and other welcome improvements. Its integrated instant-messaging module is icing on the cake.

Just one problem: When you reply to an email, it doesn't mark it as read. That's a crazy oversight, one I was hoping the developers would fix in this version. Other than that, it's nearly perfect.

The free version allows you work with two email accounts. If you have more, you'll need the $49.95 Pro version.

2. Thunderbird

Although Mozilla is no longer actively developing Thunderbird, the program remains solid, stable favorite that I continue to use daily. One reason is that it supports a Firefox-style corral of add-ons, which can add great features and improve others.

For example, Thunderbird shares eM Client's odd refusal to mark replied-to messages as read, but there's an add-on that solves that problem. It's not the prettiest mail client there is, but Thunderbird deserves its reputation as one of the best.

3. Windows Live Mail

Though part of the dwindling Windows Essentials collection, Windows Live Mail remains a well-rounded and attractive solution for anyone seeking a desktop mail client, especially one that fits in with Windows' overall look and feel (to say nothing of Microsoft Office's).

It hasn't been updated in a while, but as PC World's Preston Gralla points out in his review, "It doesn't include all the bells and whistles of Microsoft Outlook, such as tasks and a full-blown calendar, but given that it's free, Windows Live Mail is well worth the download."

I agree.

4. Zimbra Desktop

This is one the mail client I haven't tried myself, but Zimbra Desktop has a loyal following among business-minded usersand there's no reason it can't pitch in at home.

Indeed, as PC World's Jon Jacobi wrote in his Zimbra Desktop review, "Not only does this elegantly-styled program offer most of Outlook's features, it interfaces to social media sites and services: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, WebEx and Digg currently."

Consequently, this might be the preferable choice for anyone making a move from Outlook.

Have you found what you consider to be the ultimate desktop email client? Tell me about it in the comments!

Contributing Editor Rick Broida writes about business and consumer technology. Ask for help with your PC hassles at hasslefree@pcworld.com, or try the treasure trove of helpful folks in the PCWorld Forums. Sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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