Windows 7 email - where is it? There's a lot to like about Windows 7, but unfortunately email doesn't rank high on the list.

Microsoft ditched Windows Mail along with several other Vista mistakes, and so if you want an email client then you'll now have to uncover one for yourself.

That doesn't have to be a major problem, though. There are now plenty of free clients around, most with lengthy feature lists and wide support for all the key email standards.

And to give you a head start, we've identified our favourite five email programs for Windows 7 - all you have to do is choose the one that best suits your needs.

1. Mozilla Thunderbird

Download Mozilla Thunderbird

Best all-rounder; best for extensions

Mozilla's Thunderbird stands out from the crowd right away, as you begin to set up your email accounts. It uses its own database to figure out the appropriate incoming and outgoing server names, the ports to use, authentication settings and more, which greatly cuts down on the configuration hassles.

If you're trying to set up the program to work with your Gmail account, say, then all you have to enter is your Gmail address and password. Thunderbird will set all the other details on your behalf. (Though if you've some odd requirements of your own, don't worry, that's not a problem - just click the Manual Setup button and you'll get full control over exactly how your account will work.)

Thunderbird then makes it reasonably easy to import your existing mail, contacts or settings from Outlook, Outlook Express or Windows Mail.


Once everything is working you'll find the program has plenty of features: decent junk mail tools and phishing protection; plenty of search and filtering options; tabs that allow you to have multiple messages open simultaneously; an easy-to-use address book, newsgroup and RSS readers, even an attachment reminder that looks for words like "attachment" in the email and reminds you to attach something before clicking "Send".

And Thunderbird's familiar interface means you'll feel immediately at home, very quickly exploring everything the program has to offer.

Thunderbird's real advantage, though, comes in its free add-ons. These add features like calendar management, message encryption, integration with social networks, interface tweaks and more, and with more than 1,000 add-ons on offer there's sure to be plenty that will work for you.


2. Windows Live Mail

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Best for Microsoft/ Windows Live fans

Having dropped Outlook Express and its Windows Mail successor, Microsoft's current free email client is Windows Live Mail, a part of Windows Live Essentials.

The program takes a little more work to set up than Thunderbird. You'll need to enter all your account server names, ports and authentication details manually, for instance, and it's not quite as easy to import emails and account details from other packages (although you do get direct support to import messages from Outlook Express, Windows Mail, or other instances or Windows Live Mail).

Once it's configured, though, Live Mail quickly proves to be a lightweight and likeable program.

There's POP3 and IMAP support, the junk mail filters do a good job of keeping spam away from your Inbox, and the clean interface makes it generally easy to find the messages you need.

Live mail

You get plenty of other features to explore, including an excellent calendar, a newsgroup reader and support for RSS feeds.

Live Mail's big selling point comes in its integration with other Microsoft programs and services, though. So for instance the program works well with Live Hotmail and Live Messenger, syncs with Live Contacts, and it connects to Live Calendar so you can update your schedule from anywhere, and others can keep up-to-date with that you're doing. If you can make use of these features then installing Live Mail makes a lot of sense: it's the glue that holds everything else together.


3. Postbox Express

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Best for ex-Thunderbird fans looking for something a little better

Thunderbird's a good email client, but it's not perfect. If you've fallen out of love with Mozilla's finest recently, but can't get enthusiastic about any the competition, then Postbox Express could be the perfect candidate.

Why? It's based on Thunderbird code, so looks very similar. It can now use some of the same extensions, such as Lightning or Enigmail. And migration is hassle-free, because the setup process will detect your Thunderbird installation and offer to import its accounts, settings and emails.

But if you don't have Thunderbird installed, that's no problem either. Postbox Express is just as easy to set up with new accounts, and includes a Quickstart Guide on one of its tabs that explains how to, say, migrate account settings from Outlook.

Once it's configured, you'll find Postbox Express has powerful Outlook-like searches. You can use terms like "subject: accounts", "from:Carly", and even some natural language searches "before: last month" to track down the messages you need. And the search results aren't just some static list. You can then archive, tab, copy, move or delete any or all of your located messages in a couple of clicks.

Postbox express

You may not have to search as much as normal, though, because Postbox Express also supports email threading (or "conversation views" as the program calls them). In a click this summarises a long exchange of emails so you can quickly see who said what, and when.

There's also easy email tagging, which helps you search for and filter your messages later. And if your email client is always running in the background, then you'll appreciate Postbox Express's ability to publish your current status to Facebook, Twitter or FriendFeed via a handy Post button.


4. eM Client

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Best for features

If other email clients never quite seem to have the power or all the features you need, then eM Client may be for you. The free version is more restrictive than the others here - it's free for personal use only, and limited to a maximum of two account - but otherwise you get full access to a very extensive feature list.

The program can import messages and data from a lengthy list of other clients, for instance: Thunderbird, Outlook, Outlook Express, Windows Mail, Windows Live Mail, and The Bat!. It can also import contacts from csv or vCard files, Facebook or Google. And there's support for importing events from iCalendar format (ics) files, and it can even import messages from raw .eml files.

There's support for all the usual email standards, of course: SMTP, IMAP, POP3, SSL/ TLS, S/MIME. You get an excellent WYSIWYG editor, inline spellchecking, address autocompletion, signatures, templates and more.

An excellent built-in calendar supports the CalDAV standard, which means it works with any CalDAV compliant server, including Apple's iCal, Kerio, Yahoo! and more.

eM client

There's also a powerful and highly customisable contacts database. Instant messaging integration that includes full XMPP (Jabber) support, and works with Facebook and Yahoo! chat, ICQ, MSN, AOL and so on. Plus there's Skype integration, Google maps support for finding addresses, and widgets to extend the program, for example displaying your choice of web pages or RSS feeds.

If there's an issue here, it may be reliability - there were one or two times when the program didn't work as we expected. But if you need plenty of raw power then eM Client has more than enough to spare.


5. Opera Mail

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Best for simplicity

You don't need calendars, instant messaging integration, or the ability to handle an Inbox with 30,000 emails? If your needs are simple then maybe you can do without a dedicated email client at all. Opera Mail is built in to the Opera browser, and it could provide everything you require.

Import options aren't quite up to the standard of some of the competition. It's possible to import your messages from Thunderbird, Outlook Express, Eudora, Netscape Mail, and anything that uses the mbox format, but that's about it.

There's support for IMAP or POP accounts, though, so you'll quickly have the program set up to read your ISP's account, as well as web services like Gmail, AOL or Yahoo.

Opera mail

The spam filter then does a good job of blocking junk mail, and this improves even further as you train it. Opera's views automatically filter your emails into particular categories, like unread messages, emails with attachments, or anything on a mailing list. And if that's not enough, speedy search options track down whatever you might need.

Opera Mail is a very capable package, then, that also includes an RSS and newsgroup reader. If you'll also make use of the Opera browser then it could be the ideal email client for you.