Microsoft Outlook vs Exchange. Most of us are clear with Microsoft Outlook. But what is Microsoft Exchange?
How are these two email products different? And which one should you choose?
It’s harder than it should be to get an answer to these questions. But in this article I’ll do my best to answer them.
Ready? Let’s jump in.
Table of Contents
Email Servers vs. Email Clients
Before we go any further, you need to understand the difference between email servers and email clients.
An email client is a software that enables you to send and receive emails. It might take the form of a mobile app or a web application.
An email server, on the other hand, is a server application designed to manage the sending and receiving of emails on the back end. Email servers equip users with a host of different tools that can help them email more securely, more reliably, and/or more efficiently.
You’re already very familiar with email clients, since we all use them on an almost daily basis.
Email servers operate more in the background. You can think of them as the front end and back end of the experience, respectively.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at what the differences are between Microsoft Outlook vs Microsoft Exchange.
Microsoft Outlook: The Basics
Microsoft Outlook is an email client. It’s an application that you can use to send and receive emails, read your messages, organize information, and even schedule events on your calendar.
It comes in many forms; you can access Microsoft Outlook online. You can download the app to your computer. You can even use the mobile app.
Microsoft Outlook is one of the most popular email clients in the world, in part because of its long history, and in part because it’s accessible and efficient.
The Microsoft Outlook online app is free. Any user can create a free account and get access to 15 GB of storage. You can also send and receive emails freely, using Microsoft’s own email server or another server of your choosing (assuming you’re willing to set that up).
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Most people associate Microsoft Outlook with Microsoft’s email service exclusively. But there’s another side of Microsoft’s email services: Microsoft Exchange.
Microsoft Exchange: The Basics
Microsoft Exchange is an email server, not an email client. It’s a service provided by Microsoft to its customers (usually enterprise/business customers).
While Microsoft Outlook masters the front end of the email experience, Microsoft Exchange handles the back end. Subscribing to an Exchange Online plan will also give you access to a suite of other features and services.
Exchange Online subscriptions aren’t free. Microsoft has some unclear branding related to this service package – you’ll sometimes see it marketed as “Outlook for Business.”
Whatever you want to call it, Exchange Online subscriptions start at $4 per user, per month (assuming an annual commitment). This tier, called Plan 1, is equipped with 50 GB of storage and some additional productivity and organizational tools, including inbox management and contact sharing.
Plan 2 offers 100 GB of storage for your primary mailbox, with unlimited storage for your archive. You’ll also get some more advanced features, like hosted voicemail and data loss mitigation/prevention tools. This plan level starts at $8 per user per month.
Microsoft 365 Business Standard subscriptions start at $12.50 per user per month; this will grant you everything from Plan 1 of Exchange Online – plus access to greater file storage and other productivity apps (like Word and Excel). Subscribing to 365 Business will also give you access to 24/7 phone and web support.
Outlook vs Exchange: The Differences You Need to Know
So what are the differences when we’re looking at Outlook vs. Exchange?
- Core function and features. The simplest explanation is that Microsoft Outlook is an email client, while Microsoft Exchange is an email server, and Exchange Online provides you with a number of other features and services to make your email faster, more efficient, and more secure. Both of these services are related to email, but they serve different purposes, despite some overlap.
- Compatibility. It’s not only possible, but common for people to utilize Exchange Online or Microsoft 365 subscriptions in conjunction with the Microsoft Outlook client. However, it’s also possible to use Microsoft Outlook in conjunction with a different email server.
- Storage. If you’re using Microsoft Outlook exclusively, taking advantage of the free plan, you’re only going to get 15 GB of storage. If you sign up for an Exchange Online subscription, you’ll get at least 50 GB of storage, and possibly more, depending on the plan you choose.
- Performance. Both Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Exchange are highly reliable in terms of performance, but keep in mind that Microsoft Outlook is merely an email client, and it may not be responsible for managing sending and receiving emails on the back end. You also need to keep in mind that Microsoft Exchange gives you access to a host of other administrative tools, allowing you to customize various options and features to improve your email experience.
- Security. Microsoft Outlook offers some introductory forms of security, automatically sending messages to your spam folder and removing suspicious messages before they ever reach you. Microsoft Exchange offers much more robust security options, allowing you administrative privileges to control the email flow within your organization.
- Pricing. It’s free to use Microsoft Outlook if you’re exclusively relying on the online version of the application – and it’s hard to beat free. But if you want access to more of the advanced email features available through Microsoft, you’ll want to sign up for an Exchange Online subscription, which will cost you between $4 and $8 per month, per user.
Getting the Most Out of Microsoft Email
Maybe you’ve decided to sign up for an Exchange Online subscription. Maybe you’ve decided to stick with your free Microsoft Outlook application.
Whatever the case, you’re using Microsoft Outlook vs Exchange, email plays a massive role in how productive and how successful modern professionals are.
That’s why you need a tool like EmailAnalytics to visualize your team’s email activity so you can start making data-driven decisions.
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Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before selling it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics.