There is a variety of ways in which you can access you emails and manage what takes place with your email account. And while you may not be able to follow all the technical jargon involved, there is some simple and basic information you should know about the available options.
Right off the bat, we can tell you that IMAP is the way to go when accessing your email. It is much more suited to today’s world than the outdated alternative of POP3. Microsoft’s Exchange is also a viable option if you are in an organization that uses work related email accounts and has purchased the license from Microsoft or one of its resellers. It performs like IMAP, however, it is unlikely an ordinary home user would have it and it simply is not available everywhere.
Making the Choice
Your email client may be an app on your tablet or smartphone, or a desktop program on Windows, Mac or Linux. And using such an email client to access your mail requires you to choose between POP3 and IMAP. There are, however, cases in which you really don’t have to worry about making the choice at all. For example, using the Gmail app on Android or iOS to access Gmail, or outlook.com to access Microsoft’s Outlook mail poses no problems. They are made for each other, so they’ll work just fine.
Microsoft’s refusal to support POP3 with the included Mail app on Windows 8’s is a debatable step, but a step in the right direction nonetheless. The exclusion means persons wanting to access a POP3 email account will have to take a roundabout route to do so. It steers users away from POP3 and towards IMAP (or Microsoft’s own Exchange).
The Problem with POP3
POP3 is practically obsolete. At the time it was developed you were using a desktop email program on a single computer to access your email. Most likely your email address was through the internet service provider and a miniscule approximately 10MB of email storage was all that was offered. What this meant was that as you opened your email program, all emails would be downloaded from the provider to your computer and in turn they would be deleted from the online email account.
You can understand the necessity of this, given the small email storage space you had on the server. Without the delete you ran the risk of new mail returning to sender because your box was full.
POP3 was created in 1988 and was quite relevant in the decade that followed. Technology, however, has taken some giant leaps forward and POP3 has been left far behind. Today, opting to use POP3 may prove more trouble than it’s worth. Here are a few reasons why:
Nowadays, everyone probably has at least a smartphone and a computer, and you need to be able to access your email on both. With Pop3, after you access and download your email on one device, that’s it! You can’t access it on another device. Going into your account again on a different device may make it seem that your email are missing or have disappeared. Yeah, it’s that bad.
With POP3 you had better have time to spare. It requires that you download all your emails – a time consuming proposition if you have new mail with large attachments.
There is real danger that you could lose all your emails since they are stored on your computer and not on the web server. If your system crashes, then so do your stored emails! The only answer is constant manual backup of your email program’s archive.
To get around this last problem, some services mark the downloaded email as ‘read’ instead of deleting them. This prevents the email from being downloaded again, but does create a big problem. There is the possibility of your email client downloading a piece of mail and marking it as read even though you have not actually read it.
Related to this is the fact that POP3 does not facilitate synchronizing of email actions on various devices. This means only your computer’s email program will save actions taken with a particular piece of mail. The fact that you have changed its ‘read’ status, starred it, deleted it, or organized it into folders will not be synchronized online to any of your other devices.
IMAP – The Better Option
IMAP functions much more efficiently in today’s world. It treats the server, not your computer, as the primary storage of your email. This erases the stress of having to back up and import email archives. Additionally, IMAP is great at managing your email and synchronizing information about it.
Unlike POP3, IMAP is configured so that each piece of email doesn’t actually download until you open it – regardless of how many unread emails you have. The same is true for attachments. IMAP’s syncing means that any and all actions you take with the email are instantly saved not just on your system, but also on the server and all other IMAP clients you might use.
So what you have done on the computer before you stepped out the door is the same as what you find when you pull up your emails on the road with your laptop. Understand now why we say POP3 is so outmoded?
While older desktop email programs may default to POP3, more recent ones most likely will default to IMAP instead. Just to be clear though, even the Mail app on iOS and the Email app on Android are designed to support POP3 email accounts. So to be sure, when you get to the end of this article, take a minute to check your email account settings. Ensure you are using IMAP and definitely not POP3!
IMAP not Supported
An upgrade is in order if your current email client doesn’t support IMAP. Mozilla Thunderbird from the makers of Firefox is an excellent upgrade choice if you are on a desktop. Similarly, there is no need to look further than Microsoft Outlook if you’re already paying for Microsoft Office: it’s a great alternative. Once on IMAP, you can get all your email in one place by having a service such as Gmail or Outlook transfer email from your old account over POP3.
The only advantage (kind of) in using POP3 comes in if you are concerned about anyone monitoring internet traffic. POP3 does delete the information from the server, but remember that emails are inherently insecure since they are transmitted in plaintext and anyone checking can just archive them.
When you are asked to select between the two, your natural choice should be IMAP over POP3. IMAP gives a solution for all the problems that surround using POP3. This is as it should be, since it is the more advanced protocol.