Blog on Email Productivity & Outlook Add-ins

Apr/10

15

Outlook vs Gmail: Apples vs Oranges?


Tags: Comparison · Email & Outlook · email clients · Gmail


There are various articles on the web that compare Microsoft Outlook with Google Gmail. Some get to the conclusion that Outlook is better, some suggest that Gmail will crush Outlook as time goes by and new features are implemented. Although Outlook & Gmail do have lots of things in common (after all, you can use them to read, compose & send emails), I think such a comparison is wrong.

Gmail is a web-based email system. Although you can add any email account to your Google Gmail profile, it is still a web application. It works in your browser’s environment. You can add optional features made available by the Gmail Labs or by listed developers, but you can’t just plug-in any new feature like an add-in. And you need an Internet connection to reach your Gmail Inbox. Plus, let’s not forget that Gmail is free (ok, you have to deal with ads, but still you don’t pay to use it, like you do for Outlook).

Outlook is a typical Windows program. You install it on your computer. You can easily install various Outlook add-ins to connect with all sort of 3rd party applications – and you don’t need Microsoft’s permission to do that. It doesn’t run in your browser so it’s not limited to whatever functions you’re allowed by your browser or even by Outlook. Also, Outlook offers more email related options comparing to Gmail: for example you can request read receipts or you can set the message priority (importance).

On the other hand, Gmail has a huge advantage: being web based, you can access it from any computer connected to the Internet. It gives you more mobility. Plus, as a web service, it’s compatible with other operating systems, not just with Windows. But, when you have to deal with many email accounts of the same domain or group of domains, Outlook has the edge especially because of its native support for Microsoft Exchange – and Exchange is *the* mail server choice of large organizations, due to its administration side.

Surprisingly, when it comes to display HTML email content, both Gmail and Outlook fail short comparing to other email client applications, such as Thunderbird. As a matter of fact, it’s even more surprising that Gmail (although it is web based so it renders emails in your fully capable HTML browser) has even less support for HTML email tags comparing to Outlook (which is using MS Word to create emails). You can read more about the HTML email support of various email clients at the Email Standards Project site.

So, from an architecture point of view, even if both are designed to let you send/receive emails using the same email protocols, they are practically as different as they can get. Moreover, Outlook is not just about sending & receiving emails. You have the Calendar, Tasks, Notes, etc. Gmail is just about emails (and recently about Google Buzz). Yes, you have the Google Calendar, but that’s just a different web application, not implemented to interact with your Gmail account. If one recalls the early days of Outlook, Outlook Express was actually the email client program of Microsoft while Outlook was the Personal Information Manager (PIM) product of Microsoft Office. So Outlook was never intended to be just an application that you can use to send/receive emails. Maybe a comparison between Outlook Express (renamed as Windows Mail starting with Windows Vista) and Google Gmail would be slightly more appropriate? Or maybe one can compare Google Gmail with Yahoo Mail or with Outlook Live (to keep the Google vs Microsoft line) – that indeed can be a valid comparison between two web based email services. Otherwise, I think we’re comparing apples with oranges.

As a matter of fact, as someone that is using both Outlook and Gmail since their early days, I think Outlook and Gmail can easily go hand in hand. For example, my personal (non-business) email address is defined as an email account in both Outlook and Gmail. When I need to quickly zap through emails or when I’m mobile, I connect to the Gmail web interface. When I’m home, I handle the same account through Outlook. When I receive the emails in Outlook, they don’t get erased from the Gmail account, so when I later log-in to Gmail I still have them there too. Also, if I send an email from Outlook, I will also have a copy of it available on my web based Gmail account. Here is an article describing how to setup a Gmail account in Outlook.

Bottom line, I don’t think Gmail and Outlook should be regarded as rivals. You can easily use both and probably your choice will be greatly influenced not by their email-related features, but by the way you already got used to deal with emails. I don’t think there can be a winner between them simply because Outlook & Gmail don’t plan to solve the same problems.

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