Choosing an email client: the webmail option

Garikai Dzoma Avatar

The Rainloop email client.

So over the past few weeks we have been looking at how you can enhance and secure your email experience as a Startup. That is, if you, like me, are unwilling to cede control of your email experience to some third party like Google Apps or your web hosting provider. We have already looked at my email server recipe, setting up TLS authentication using StartSSL certificates and setting up SPF, DKIM and DMARC records.In this installment we are now looking at the choices of Mail User Agents available to you.

In the world of email there are, if we are simplifying the process a bit, three important pieces of software that are involved in the sending and receiving of emails.

  1. A Mail Transfer Agent is that piece of software that is responsible for transferring and routing your emails from you to your recipient. It also receives your emails and forwards them to your intended destination. Examples include Postfix, Exim and Sendmail.
  2. Mail Delivery Agent is that piece of software that delivers your emails to your local inbox. An example is Dovecot.
  3. Mail User Agent this is the software that an actual end user interfaces with wend composing, sending and receiving emails and managing their contacts. There are traditional MUAs like Thunderbird and Outlook as well as web based clients like Roundcube.

With the rise in the adoption of broadband every other company has been harping about the cloud and its advantages. Web based email like Gmail nowadays is often referred to as cloud based email instead of the traditional term “webmail.” Today we will quickly look at some of the most popular web mail/cloud clients that you can use to join the cloud bandwagon. In the next installment we will have quick guides on how you can configure some of them.

Web mail does offer certain advantages over traditional email clients. For example, it allows your startup members and employees to access email anywhere including the few remaining internet cafés without the need to install any email software. They can even use their feature phones and Opera Mini to cheaply and easily access emails anywhere they may be. In addition to this, using a webmail client will allow you to lock down access to your Mail Delivery Agents and thus thwart those annoying bots.

The clients

These are by no means the only clients out there, I just picked on the most responsive (they work well on both mobile and desktop browsers) and popular ones.


Roundcube. Image credit
Roundcube. Image credit
  • An open source, popular, themable and free webmail client.
  • It has a large install base and thousands of tutorials for it.
  • There are skins you can use to customise it.
  • I fell in love with this webmail after signing up with free webmail service during my first year in college.

Squirrel Mail

Image credit
Image credit
  • Is also open source.
  • It’s ugly and I could never find skins for it. You can try changing its colours but it is in my little experience nowhere as themable as Roundcube.
  • If you don’t mind having an email client that looks like it was made during the AOL era then you can use Squirrelmail because it is simple, light on resources and works well.

Rain Loop


  • Is slick, modern and easy to configure.
  • This is my preferred client although you will have to pay $95/year if you want to use your custom branding on the client.
  • The free edition works just as well and gives you a Gmail like experience that most users have come expect.
  • It is highly responsive and works well on mobiles and Desktops alike.


Image credit
Image credit
  • Another modern looking client.
  • It is open source and is free.

For what its worth I prefer rainloop myself. Despite the fact that you have to pay to use your own branding I find it responsive on mobile phones and prefer it to the others above. If it does not appeal to you then you are better off choosing roundcube as it has a large install base and is constantly maintained. It appears Squirrelmail has not seen much activity since 2013.

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  1. macd chip

    If you want to have endless problems then choose squirelmail. It made me hate email support and lm still recovering from the shocks.

    Squirelmail is what make Micro$oft looks like angel. After nightmares trying to support users, we moved everything into MS 365 cloud and lm enjoying peace now.

    And with Windows 10 mail intergrated client, opensource mail services are going to find it hard if they do not move with time. Do not get me wrong, prefered OS is Linux and l use Linux Mint for my everyday use.

    But l also have to use windows for support reasons hence testing Win 10 now.

  2. cloud

    the last time I used roundcube and squirrel it was hard to check my emails on my mobile because the clients arent mobile friendly