I have been very impressed with GMail. Especially now that they will let you host your own domain. However, IMAP is still too important for me to give up for my main business account. Let me explain why.
There are three main ways to read your email. Webmail is one. The other two are called POP3 and IMAP. POP3 is what Google uses. It allows you to download your emails to your local computer. The problem is that it doesn’t keep things synchronized or allow folders. So if I move an email to a “to-do” folder on my client, the server doesn’t know anything about it.
If I just used one computer that wouldn’t be a problem. However, I have three computers that I use on a fairly regular basis and I need to be able to get to email on all of them. IMAP allows me to do this. If I make a change on one computer it automatically updates it on the other computers. If I create a new folder, it automatically creates it on the server which is automatically synced with my other computers and it shows up in web mail as well.
By using the IMAP protocol I’m able to have the same view of my inbox regardless of what computer I’m using. Of course if you use Gmail over the web, it gives you this capability as well. Internet coverage isn’t ubiquitous enough for me to take this route yet. However, it might be some day. Until then I’ll stick with mailboxes that allow me to use IMAP for my main business accounts.
The other day I was trying to help a fellow blogger get his email set back up after his computer had crashed. Since he used POP3, he had lost all of the emails he had previously downloaded and he had to send out messages asking people to resend anything they might have sent to him.
With IMAP this is not a problem because the server keeps a synchronized copy of everything that is on your desktop computer. This is a very valuable feature–especially if losing an email could be costly.
J. David Boyd says
I thought that IMAP mail was left on the server. That is the main reason I use POP3, actually. I want the messages that are important to me to be on my system, where I can back them up.
I’ve just Googled and perused a few sites defining IMAP, and I don’t see anything that leads me to believe that IMAP works as you describe. I would love to be shown the way though, as I greatly desire an email protocol such as you describe.
Where can I look up the correct facts, please?
Mark Mathson says
Good article… I like IMAP for its server side folder list, as well.
What do you use for a calendar solution? Do you use anything like the SyncKolab solution?
I would love to use my IMAP but also have my Calendar synched there as well.
I am just curious as to what others are doing out there for this…
I absolutely love gmail, even though I took forever to sign up with it… I have no regrets. I don’t use IMAP, but probably should for other email addresses.
I’ve only used IMAP a few times, but I really liked it. I wish more email providers gave you free IMAP service, it is such a big improvement over POP
Mark Shead says
@David – The emails are left on the server in IMAP, but they are also synced to your local hard drive. With IMAP I can use an email client on my laptop and my desktop and they are both kept in sync. When I send an email from my laptop, it shows up in my sent items on my desktop as well. When I delete an item from my desktop, it deletes it from my laptop as well.
It works the same way with webmail. If I’m on the road and check my email from a kiosk, the messages are marked as read on my laptop and desktop the next time they connect.
With POP3 it is very difficult to keep multiple computers synchronized. The best way I’ve found is to use Gmail and download all of your emails to your primary computer. Have Gmail archive each message once it is downloaded. That way you can use your email client on your main computer, and use Gmail on the others. It is less than ideal when compared with IMAP.
I’ll do a post in a few days talking about how I setup Gmail accounts like this.
@Mark — I use .Mac calendars. It makes it really easy to sync with my wife’s computer so we are both looking at the same version of things. I use a piece of software on my laptop to sync the calendar with my Blackberry. We do the same thing with the Address Book. That way when I add a contact to my Blackberry and sync, it shows up on my computer, my wife’s computer, and they web.
Mark Mathson says
I have never looked at .Mac calendars before, but glad to hear that is what works for you.
I am a recent convert over to IMAP and so far have liked it. I will need to do my homework to find a solution that works for me, as far as getting my contacts and calendar in sync, especially to my mobile device.
Edmund Landgraf says
Hi – so there’s another way too. You can use Microsoft exchange not as it is generally intended to, but as an IMAP sub. If you setup a domain with an exchange server, you can tell exchange server you want offline access. this creates an .ost file instead of a .pst.
Now, exchange can be configured to download all your mail and the such via pop3, imap, or others. I leave all this stuff OFF. Instead, I use my local outlook client to do the pop3 download. I could have many pop3 accounts – they would all come to outlook (this is no different than the regular non-exchange mode). All your mail gets stored to your local .ost file. When you are away, you are out of sync with your exchange server and are effectively just running a local copy. when you return to the office (or whereever your exchange server is), your email you got while away will sync to exchange — so you’ve effectively backed up your mailbox. since exchange nevers downloads mail in this scenario, you will only push mail to it.
Now say my desktop is also connected to exchange and I took my laptop on a business trip for 5 days. my desktop (and exchange) is out of sync with exchange – when i return however my laptop syncs and my desktop auto syncs too (via updating exchange which happens automatically). say i lose my laptop, if i plug in another laptop, join the domain with my credentials, outlook will copy the whole exchange mailbox to my laptop – and i’ll have a recrteated mailbox within minutes (or so). at any point, your maximum loss will the time away you last sync’d from the exchange server. note i can send emails from my desktop or my laptop and they remain identical copies of each other while on the domain.
this method doesn’t work if you dont get back to your exchange box very often. you could use an rpc over http to accomplish this (though this method is not idea for that either) its great for me as i have a desktop and laptop and server all of which i want to use my mail client on.
imap is a nicer solution but this might work for some. email me with more details (of course you can take advantage of all other other exchange features if you so choose)
Mark Shead says
@Mark – If you use a Mac I would checkout the .mac service. You pay for it, but personally I think it is worth it for being able to synch my Calendar and Address book with my wife’s computer and my Blackberry. Plus it gives you the ability to publish with things like iWeb. I don’t use iWeb, but my wife likes the ability to create scrapbooks easily from iPhoto.
.Mac will also keep track of how your email is setup, so if you connect with a different Mac, it will restore all of your email accounts instead of having to add them one at a time.
@Ed – If you have an exchange server, you already have MAPI access which makes it really easy to keep a bunch of Microsoft devices synched with your message store. The idea of downloading POP accounts and sticking them in your Exchange message store as a way to keep things synched is interesting but are you sure those don’t get put in a .pst file anyway? I thought the .ost file only kept a copy of the Exchange mailboxes, contacts, etc.
Are you saying that it will actually put the POP3 mail into the .ost file which then gets synched with your Exchange Mailbox? I thought Exchange will treat the POP account as a new mailbox backed by a .PST file.
I’ve setup a lot of Exchange servers, but usually it is for businesses, so I don’t have to worry about setting up other external accounts. Normally we don’t want people checking email that doesn’t come through our anti virus filters on Exchange.
Here is what I found on Lifehacker. IMAP over Gmail. Now is that cool or what ?
I am a new Imac user and so far love it. The one main problem for me is my exchange account. With the new Leopard OS 10 the imail features are amazing. My question to the world is, “Is it possible to get my exchange email account (used for business) to drop directly into imail?” I am currently using Entourage yet it lacks a lot. If anyone has a solution I would be very appreciative.
Mark Shead says
@Justin — I think Mail has an option for adding and Exchange server. You can choose POP, IMAP, .MAC, or Exchange I believe. If your Exchange server is setup to handle IMAP you can connect that way as well.
Mark, imail does have the option to select “Exchange” yet it will not connect. For the last year I have been using Sherweb as my exchange host, nice people yet their interface is not user friendly, and I am not sure if the problem is with the imail setup or the exchange. I just switched today to 1&1 because I have been very pleased with their tech support for other web products.
Anyway, I truly believe there is a way to get this working yet I have been unable to find anyone who understands Mac and PC. I have either found people who know one real well and the other not so well.
Thank you for your help and support.
Else for Email may use different tool,on example if anything file was corrupted,then advise try-moving messages from ost to pst,also it can more than-moving Outlook ost file to pst is the only way to recover your data,program allows to convert data from *.ost to *.pst files, that can be read by Microsoft Outlook or any other compatible mail client,transform *.ost files to *.pst files, that can be easily opened by Microsoft Outlook email client, or any other compatible program,moving mail from pst to ost in Outlook to recover all of your contacts and critical information and avoid data losses,will prompt you to show a path to *.ost file.
Jeff Miles says
Great article and I agree wholeheartedly with using IMAP protocol for email, but I am going to pose a question because I miss one piece of POP3 functionality.
Has anyone found a good way to get a consolidated view of multiple IMAP inboxes? When I used POP3 all my emails came into one folder, but now that I use IMAP with several inboxes I have to check a bunch of different inboxes where if I could have a consolidated view of them it would be nice.
I currently use Thunderbird on Linux as my main email client but would be willing to switch email clients if needed to get a consolidated view. I have used Evolution in the past but preferred Thunderbird’s functionality.
As for another reader’s question about calendar, I use Google Calendar which is nice now that they sync over the air with iPhones because I can share my calendar with my wife and she with me so that we can always see each other’s calendars on our iPhones all the time.
Mark Shead says
@Jeff – Apple Mail gives you a “master inbox” view where you can see all of your messages regardless of what mailbox they came from. There is a way to do this with Outlook as well using the “smart folders” or whatever they are called in Outlook.
I was pretty sure there was a way to do this in Thunderbird as well. If not you should be able to get the same thing by using a search folder that shows everything from all the mailboxes (or just new items, or whatever you like). There is a global inbox setting in Thunderbird, but I’m not clear if that works with IMAP.
Jeff Miles says
Thanks for the response, eventually I am going to make the jump back to a Mac, but for now I am stuck in the Linux/Windows world. Unless I am not understanding the search folder functionality correctly I don’t think you can search across inboxes and the global inbox doesn’t work for IMAP. If anyone knows how to do this, please let me know. Thanks.
Jeff Miles says
Mark (and others),
It looks like Opera’s mail client has a global inbox. The downside to Opera is that it currently doesn’t allow you to create HTML or RTF formatted messages…oh well, I can live with that.
Hi Productivity 501
thanks for the clarity on the benefits of IMAP. hoever i do have one question, in the event i dont have connectivity to the internet i would like to have my emails on my local hardrive as well, can this be done with IMAP?
Mark Shead says
IMAP clients keep a cached copy of your mailbox for offline access.