Evolve to the Modern Age of Email with IMAP

Letter SorterI love IMAP.

There, I’ve said it. And if that brief statement doesn’t mark me as a geek, nothing ever will.

And I bet you don’t even know what I’m talking about.

But just stick with me here.

I’m going to share one of the great secrets of modern email with you.

IMAP is an email protocol that’s used mainly by software on your computer, like Apple Mail or Microsoft Outlook.

More than an email protocol, though, it’s a way of living.

Old school desktop email was all about POP.

And, truth be told, most email these days is still old school.

I pity the masses that suffer under the cruel dominance of that ancient, decrepit email protocol.

That probably means you.

In a nutshell, POP is dumb. Not in that grade 2 ways, like, “you’re dumb!”

No, POP is dumb in that blonde sort of way.

POP doesn’t know that you’ve read an email message. POP has no idea about how you might want to organize your email. Heck, it has no idea about organization, period.

With POP, there’s a hard line between your computer (known in geek parlance as the “client”) and the computer that’s delivering your mail to you (the “server”).

Once you’ve read your email, it’s on your computer. End of story.

That’s relatively cool if you’ve just got one computer and you never want to get at your email from anywhere else.

Because you won’t be able to. But, oh, what a sad life.

Of course, you could leave all your mail on the server. Then you could get it from wherever.

But because POP, as I’ve established, is dumb, each computer you read your email on will think all your email is unread. A POP server has no clue as to which messages you’ve read and which are new.

What’s more, POP can’t get organized. Everything exists in one big, fat Inbox. If you want to organize your email along more comprehensible guidelines, you’ll have to take it off the server and put it on your computer.

But then you can’t get at it from any other computer.

Ah, what a vicious circle ye are, POP.

Here’s where my love begins.

IMAP is all about taking the work out of email.

IMAP knows what you’ve read. It keeps track of this and shares the information between computers.

IMAP helps you organize your email. All of your folders, flags, and stars are shared between all of the computers you use to access your email.

IMAP lets you get at your email from whatever computer you might be using. No matter what computer you use, you always see the same information.

But you’re not stuck to just using a desktop client like Outlook or Mail.

Most IMAP services also have web-based interfaces so that if you’re using someone else’s computer you can still get at your mail. You can read and manage your email just as you would at your own computer.

If you have more than one computer and need to keep your email activities synchronized between them, IMAP is for you.

POP will just drive you mad (and probably already is) as you manually work to try and remember on which machine you downloaded what email message.

Oddly enough, even in this modern age, most people are stiffed with email providers that only support the POP protocol. And that’s pretty whacked.

POP’s one of those old-world services, like coal fueled power, that need to be quickly migrated out of existence.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon.

Still, many commercial email providers are adopting it alongside POP.

Probably the best deal for IMAP these days is Google’s Gmail. You can go with a standard-fare gmail.com address, or subscribe to the free Google Apps service and use your own domain name. Then set up your desktop email client to log in using IMAP.

Of course, going with Google puts you and your organization under the jurisdiction of a foreign legal and privacy system.

If you want to stay within friendlier, more familiar boundaries then shell out a few bucks a month for an IMAP account with Webnames.ca, Canada’s best implementation of the protocol.

Whatever you do though, ditch POP. As fast as you can. And join me and my geek love affair in the modern age of email.

Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, November 2, 2007.