Gmail is even better with IMAP

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Google’s free Gmail service is still forging ahead with improvements to make it a compelling email host – not just for web based email but also for people with almost any email program. It’s a service that is far better than what most ISP’s give you with an Internet connection.

Google’s free Gmail service is still forging ahead with improvements to make it a compelling email host – not just for web based email but also for people with almost any email program. It’s a service that is far better than what most ISP’s give you with an Internet connection.

The recent changes that make Gmail even more tempting are increased email storage and IMAP support. The storage is an obvious benefit while four letter ‘IMAP’ opens up a whole new set of options for you.


Storage

Gmail started with around 1GB of storage for each email account – more than most email hosts offered then and even now. These days a free Gmail account comes with 2.9GB immediately.

(According to Google’s documentation a Gmail account comes with 2.9GB of free storage but our free account is showing over 5GB available)

That’s a lot of email storage – even the most rabid email users would be hard pressed to fill 3GB or 5GB even over several years. It’s far higher than the standard quota allowed by many companies, and ISP’s are similarly limited.

Individual emails are limited to 20MB (up from 10MB originally) which is enough for almost all photos and documents – and is far more than many ISP’s allow.


IMAP

IMAP is a system for synchronising your email folders, so that the contents of your email program folders are matched with a copy on a remote server. This is different from the commonly used POP3 system that grabs your messages from an email host and usually removes it from the remote storage immediately.

With IMAP your email program has a copy of your Inbox, Sent items and other folders – each time you connect to the email storage (ie Gmail) any changes are updated. Newly received messages are copied to your computer, and anything you’ve deleted from local storage is removed from the remote copy.

Anyone who has used a Microsoft Exchange account in an organisation will be familiar with the concept of local and server mirroring of folders – though Exchange Server doesn’t normally use IMAP (it is available).

IMAP has been around for a long time, and Outlook and Outlook Express have supported it for years, but it’s not been heavily used.

In past times when people just worked on email on their computer (using Outlook, Eudora or whatever) then POP3 grabbing of email was sufficient. More recently there’s been a move towards web based email – Gmail, Hotmail etc.

In both cases the underlying assumption was that people had a single point of contact for their email – either a program or web browser etc. For many people that isn’t always the case, given that they access their email in different ways and from different places. For example, they’re at home with a desktop computer then travelling with a laptop, sometimes using a mobile phone or a web browser.

Having many ways to access your email can get messy with messages stored in different places and not properly synchronised. We’ve often been asked for help with email storage on both a laptop and desktop computer or between work and home. IMAP provides a solution to that – a common storage point that can be copied automatically to other places.

Google is recognising something that Office Watch has preached for years – that people don’t always have access to Internet connections. There’s a need for both online and offline access. IMAP with Gmail lets you work on messages offline and send them when next connected – the sent messages will be copied to the common ‘Sent Items’ folder so you can refer to them anytime and from anywhere.

Even if you only want to use Gmail online, using IMAP with a free email program (like Outlook Express or Windows Mail that comes with Windows) is a simple way to backup your Gmail account for your own peace of mind.

Most web based email services don’t offer either POP3 or IMAP because they want to maximise the web page hits they get. For example, Hotmail has very limited offline access options. Google is offering a better service and taking a longer view in the hope that providing a compelling and useful service will bring more people under the broader umbrella of Google services.


Activating IMAP

On Gmail go to Setting | Forwarding and POP/IMAP, turn on the IMAP option and click the ‘Save Changes’ link at the bottom.

Gmail IMAP setting image from Gmail is even better with IMAP at Office-Watch.com

 

There’s a link to configuration help for many email programs – follow those instructions carefully because the port numbers used by Gmail are different from the defaults in many email programs. The secure login options need to be exactly correct.

Many Internet providers have IMAP available since its part of their email hosting software – however because the online storage is usually quite limited there’s less advantage. However you can try to use it simply by configuring your email client with the IMAP option (instead of POP/SMTP). Usually the IMAP server address is the same as the POP3 server (the SMTP setting stays the same) or prefixed with ‘imap’, for example imap.freddagg.com instead of pop.freddagg.com ).

When you first connect using IMAP the list of folders will be downloaded from the server. Be patient as the initial synchronisation can take some time, once that’s done the occasional updates should not take too long.

IMAP isn’t without a downside – it doesn’t handle some changes to the remote storage very elegantly requiring a complete refresh of the folders and contents.

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