Web Based Mail Readers Compared

Web Based Mail Readers


Displays html-based email as a web page, with images. There is no way to disable this obvious security problem.

Displays email in a proportional font (yuk).

When viewing an email, there is a "back to inbox" icon you can click ... but it always takes you back to the top of the list you were viewing ... then you have to scroll back to where you were.

If instead, you use the browser back button, you will get

  • Warning: Page has Expired

and it will take 2 more clicks (Refresh and Retry) before you can see anything useful.


To set the number of messages per page via

Click on User Preferences (the wrench icon)

Under Messages per page, the largest possible value is 100.

Address Book

When sending a new message, you can not type in a nickname. Instead, you must click the blue label - To, CC, BCC. It normally takes about 3 seconds for the list of nicknames to be displayed.

However, if you move to another window while the list is displayed, it will be hidden beneath the other windows. Now, when you click the label again, it appears that nothing happens. That is because it won't bring the window back to the top. It took a while to find it.

Emails sent using a nickname actually display that nickname ... so be real careful how you refer to people. In Pine, the nicknames were replaced with the email address so you could use anything to refer to "friends" :)

There is an icon (an address book and a plus sign) next to all the sender names - just click one of these to add a name to your address book.


There is a button to view the message source - very useful.

For messages received as both text and html, it displays the text version by default and provides a link to view the html version in a browser. However, it lacks a way to control viewing the images.

It provides WhiteList/BlackList filters ... presumably so that you can override the spam filter.

For messages marked as [SPAM], this link is available

  • original message before SpamAssassin

Unfortunately, it allows you to write html based messages. (These should never be used.)

When you delete messages, it renders them differently so that you can easily see which ones you selected. There are additional links to hide and purge the messages marked for deletion.


There are 2 options icons

One in the menu / treelist on the left of the screen
This is fairly worthless


One in the tool bar at the top of the screen when you are viewing a mail box
This allows you to set the number of messages displayed per screen

I never expected these to display different options, so it took several hours to discover how to set the number of messages per screen. The default of only 20 was very irritating.

Address Book

Must enter values using brute force.

Has a button (link) to expand names - but this ignores alias names. Why allow aliases but provide no way to use them.


SquirrelMail has a nice clean interface with large type.

This has the most comprehensive options of the 3 - I consider these to be important

  • By default, it displays the text version ... but "html only" messages display very poorly
  • By default, Display Attached Images with Message is disabled

When viewing a site that provides both text and html, it displays the text first and provides a link (View) that allows you to see it in rendered html. When clicked, the page is rendered ok and all the images display "This image has been removed for security reasons" (even though Display Attached Images with Message was set to No). There is another link if you want them displayed.

Allows you to use the browser's back button - this brings you back to the same location (message) you last clicked ... but you need to click "Check Mail" to change the highlights.

There is no way to view the actual email text.

There are check boxes to get receipts On Read and On Delivery - boy, I bet spam writers like that. Actually, SquirrelMail provides a [Send read receipt now] link on received mail, so at least it's not automatic. In addition, neither NeoMail or Horde provide a way to send a receipt. So I guess that it is just a dumb idea.

No way to tweak the spam filter.

If you check a lot of emails (so you can delete them), and then make the mistake of reading an email, then, when you return to the index page, all your check marks are gone. As a result, you should get into the habit of right clicking links and opening them in a separate window.

Address Book

There are no short cuts to add new entries - just use brute force (type them in).

"html only" Mail Messages

email from one source displays fine in NeoMail (as a fully rendered html page with images) but extremely poorly in SquirrelMail (basically, no way to see or click on the links) ... with no way to view it correctly. Horde shows what is happening

  • Horde states that
    • There are no parts that can be displayed inline.
  • Clicking the part link displays the fully rendered html with images
  • Message Source indicates that the email was html only

What I want in an email reader

Images must not display when the email is first opened
This is how spam sites identify that you are a live person - one of the images (it may be only a single pixel, or a normal image) reports that that specific email was read. The same is true if your browser executes javascript - except with javascript, the email can also report how long you had the email open.


I want to see the actual text of the email
Of these 3 products, only Horde allows that


The ability to send email as only text with no html tags
Pine only allowed this - apparently, of these 3, only Horde allows html messages ... but that is not the default


The ability to see a long scrollable list of what is in the inbox
They all allow this

So basically, none of these meets my basic requirements - but Horde is pretty close.


  Pro Con
NeoMail Very easy to add names to the address book Always shows full html if available
Uses proportional font
Horde Allows you to see the actual source No way to hide images when viewing as html
SquirrelMail Will show all messages in a single list
Has an html mode that hides the images
Handles "html only" messages poorly
Has no way to view the actual source


Author: Robert Clemenzi

Feb. 3,