How many times have you clicked an email address on a webpage instead of copying it only to accidentally start Outlook or another desktop mail client?
Who uses desktop mail clients anymore? Well, I do, but that’s another story. Many people these days are just keeping all their email in web-based services like Gmail, Outlook.com, and Yahoo Mail.
When you click an email address your browser is handing off responsibility for a special kind of link, called mailto, to a desktop program.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. In most modern Windows browsers you can turn a webmail account into your default email program. The only drawback is that setting a webmail service as your default is not system wide, meaning you have to set your preferred mail service as the default in each separate browser you use.
Google Chrome has a built-in tool that allows it to handle all mailto links. Unfortunately, Chrome’s built-in tool only currently works with Gmail . But you can use an extension to get your browser to work with other webmail services.
Making Gmail your default mail client in Chrome is easy. Just login to your inbox, and once it’s loaded, click on the double diamond icon in the address bar on the far right. Click that, select Allow, then Done.
Next, Windows will throw up a pop-up window asking which program you want to use as the default for mailto links. Just choose Chrome from the list and that’s it.
If you don’t see the double diamond icon in Chrome, then click the “hamburger” menu icon and go to Settings > Privacy > Content settings…
In the pop-up window that opens, look for the Handlers heading and then click the Manage handlers… button. Another pop-up window appears. Just choose mail.google.com from the drop-down menu next to mailto and you’re done.
For everything else, there’s mailto
If you want to use a service other than Gmail, install the Mailto: extension from the Chrome Web Store. Once it’s installed, a configuration window like the one above appears. Just check off the box for your favorite email service or add a custom URL and you’re done.
With the latest version of Firefox, click the “hamburger” menu icon on the far right and from the drop-down menu choose Options. In the pop-up window that opens, choose the Applications tab and scroll down until you see the mailto option on the left under the Content type heading.
Click the drop down menu and by default you’ll have the choice to use Gmail or Yahoo. If either of those are your webmail provider you’re done.
Outlook.com users are shut out of the Firefox party, which is surprising since Mozilla’s browser is usually highly customizable. But in this case, your best bet is to use an add-on such as Live Mailer that is specifically built to automatically switch all mailto links in Firefox to Outlook.com.
The latest versions of Opera have the same underlying technology as Chrome. Opera has not built-in mailto handling the way Google has, but the same Mailto: extension you can use in Chrome is also available for Opera and works with all major webmail services.
Microsoft’s IE is not as friendly to personalization as other browsers and does not have a mailto setting you can tweak simply and easily. If you’re a Gmail user, you can install Google’s toolbar for IE that will allow you to set Gmail as your default mail client. Check out previous webmail tutorial for further instruction.
If you’re not a Gmail user, you may want to consider switching to a browser like Chrome and Firefox.
Using a webmail service as your default isn’t quite as seamless as choosing a desktop program. But with the many add-ons and built-in capabilities of modern browsers it’s still a lot easier than configuring IMAP or POP3 in Outlook or Thunderbird.
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Ian is an independent writer based in Israel who has never met a tech subject he didn't like. He primarily covers Windows, PC and gaming hardware, video and music streaming services, social networks, and browsers. When he's not covering the news he's working on how-to tips for PC users, or tuning his eGPU setup.