Why Windows Mail is actually good

I know, I know. People actually use Windows Mail?

Let’s face it. Most of what Microsoft bundles with their Windows operating system is junk. But especially email clients: you have been conditioned for decades into thinking there were two types of mail client: the proper one (Outlook) and the laughably bad one (Outlook Express).

I get it. Outlook Express did some long-term damage there.

But although Windows Mail may be the natural successor to OE, that’s where the similarity ends.


Allow me to put across the case for Windows Mail here. Assuming you haven’t completely got rid of email, or you aren’t preferring to use some web-based clients (of which I both approve highly, it’s just that I need a unified place to read emails from various different providers, 365, Gmail, etc. hence needing an email client at all), then if you’re a Windows user you will have at some point had a brush with Microsoft Outlook.

Mmm, Outlook 2000

As for this particular user of email since 1994, I am disgustingly familiar with the running of on-prem Exchange servers since days of Windows NT and was previously a *devoted* fan of Outlook, since the days when the “Today” screen was released in v2000. Until my mail needs increased, and my integration with tasks / calendar etc. decreased, I would only consider using Outlook.

I have a friend / colleague who finds it bizarre that I prefer Windows Mail as he is still an avid user of Outlook. I write this with him in mind.

I’m sure I won’t change minds with this post, but perhaps it may open others’ minds about how Windows Mail is rather well designed, functional, efficient, and can be your daily driver, even if you are a hardcore emailer.

Or at least why it shouldn’t be considered the laughing stock that its natural predecessor, Outlook Express, was for decades.

*also shudders*

So here’s my “Why I Prefer Windows Mail to Outlook” reasoning:

  1. Zero Faff. As a techie, I was *always* faffing around with Outlook to get it to work seamlessly. Faffing with the .pst / .ost files of other people, compacting them, setting their auto-archiving limits, making sure they were not part of the downloaded user profile for domain machines, or indeed making sure they were (depending on requirements); faffing around with accounts, certificates, SSL port settings, sync schedules, cached exchange mode (what the hell?) getting to the bottom of error messages – gah – error messages! I remember them. I noticed I was ending up doing a fair amount of such faffery with my own PST files and mail accounts as they grew and grew and grew. Granted, much of this faff may have calmed-down in latter versions, with Outlook becoming slightly more intelligent and Exchange ActiveSync working in more scenarios. But ohgod I remember wrangling with Exchange servers to get ActiveSync to work at all. The pain. Even then, as I operated multiple email accounts across exchange activesync mailboxes and IMAP mailboxes, and Outlook slowed down to a halt, then had to compact .pst files, I grew increasingly annoyed with Outlook, but I persisted as it was worth the additional effort. At some point, the features in Windows Mail became just powerful enough that I didn’t mind making the jump because Windows Mail basically never slows down. Because Windows Mail is lightning fast, I have never looked back. I have never not once EVER seen an error message in Windows Mail. That’s because it doesn’t produce errors, which in turn is because it just works.
  2. Performance. Searches across all inboxes are super fast, even within IMAP folders. Zero UI lag. Moving items around, archiving multiple items etc., zero UI lag even with huge mailboxes. If you just click on loads of stuff really quickly, the UI updates instantaneously with no lag. The app is unbreakably fast, with one small exception, by no means a dealbreaker (see below).
  3. Outlook still doesn’t have that touchscreen-native feel, especially swipe to archive. Wait – Outlook doesn’t even have an archive function, which behaves according to the type of email account in question. Personally I don’t use touch, and prefer keyboard shortcuts, even then Mail is far nicer to work with when multiple selecting and archiving / flagging as junk etc. When you act on multiple emails, did I mention – it’s SO fast. These things became important to me when the idea of “inbox zero” came into fashion in the mid 2010s.
  4. Clean lines. It’s subjective, but I generally find the UI to strike a balance between simplicity/looks and power.
    • Example: the sidebar works on a need-to-see basis. For each mailbox you see inbox, drafts, sent, deleted, more. Click on more, then you see every IMAP folder / exchange folder / gmail tag you like, and can quickly pin it to the sidebar. In folder view you can also empty folders, manage / create folders, and even pin a folder to Start. The sidebar folders show up only for the account you are viewing at the time. Changes between folders and accounts (i.e. click quickly between them like a madman) are ridiculously fast.
    • Clickable zones (in message list) and sidebar are basically far bigger and easier to use
  5. Powerful features:
    1. per-account / all account customisable swipe actions
    1. per-account / all account group by conversation (or not)
    2. per-account / all account automatic replies
    3. per-account / all account focused inbox, caret browsing, auto-open next item
    4. per-account / all account HTML signature
    5. powerful per-account notifications
    6. far more simple mail list context menus
    7. Ability to change UI spacing (i.e. spacious medium compact)
  6. Additional stuff. Calendar and contacts sync to Gmail / 365 easily, support multiple / filterable calendars, colour preferences, etc.

This isn’t to say Mail is without its faults. Early-on I was sceptical as although it never gave UI lag, the window might juts sometimes just disappear then not start up again. That’s fixed now. Things that still annoy me now:

  • when I paste into an email and for some god unknown reason sometimes, not always it seems to take AGES to paste. I just close and restart Mail (which is instantaneous, unlike Outlook which forces you to find the process outlook.exe in task manager and kill it?!) then copy only plain text in, then it always works fine. So there’s a workaround.
  • The annoying little text at the bottom of the sidebar trying to get you to use Outlook mobile apps for your iphone etc. Don’t worry – it goes away and doesn’t come back. Maybe they have even got rid of this now? But it offended me a lot, especially as the Mail app seemed good in most other respects

Other reasons you can’t live without Outlook? I work with a lot of non-technical people e.g. school teachers and many still like to use Outlook desktop. But if I ever spend time with them to actually work through what they like about it, it’s usually basic stuff like “I really need all these mail subfolders” to which I show them how this isn’t specific to Outlook. Then I found out they like to have 6 emails open in 6 windows throughout the day, reading and responding to each one individually, as a way to organise the mind. This is certainly possible in Windows mail too, it’s just that the UI encourages you to NOT to multitask like that – you can’t double-click an email to open in its own window, you have to click the little “open message in new window” button in the reading pane.

I’m sure I haven’t convinced anyone of anything – that’s fine, but maybe those with an open mind may go the same way as I did and let go of the idea that Outlook’s power and complexity can’t be matched by Windows Mail, just differently so.






One response to “Why Windows Mail is actually good”

  1. Rodger Rast avatar
    Rodger Rast

    HA HA — you nailed It – I’ve been so disgusted with MS prior mail functions, I steer clear. But Google Chrome is having lots of problems too.

    We use Outlook at the firm I work for – but for my own email want something just for email, …simple.

    Think I will check it out… Thankyou


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