Monday, June 15, 2009

Modern Times: Make it IMAP!

At the Pobox Customer Service desk, some days feel like a walk down Internet memory lane. Email programs, unlike web browsers, are things you can avoid updating for years and years, without losing functionality. We still get questions about Pegasus and Eudora (both unsupported, sadly), even though neither of them have been under active development for about 3 years. So, unsurprisingly, lots of people still use POP.

I'm here to tell you, you want to make the switch to IMAP. POP was designed to download your messages to the place you were reading mail, every time you read it. (Doing anything else is basically just a hack.) IMAP was always designed to store your messages on the server. You can tell your local mail program to cache a copy of everything, but a copy is on the server, too. Why do you want your email "in the cloud"?

If you read your email in more than one place (like webmail and an email program, or your desktop and your cell phone, or your work computer and your home computer), then IMAP is an absolute must-have. POP has a "leave on server" option, which is designed to mimic IMAP, so you can read webmail. But this is a hack, and sometimes it means you end up with duplicate copies in your mailbox, because something loses track of whether a message has already been downloaded. IMAP's initial design was for messages to stay on the server, and be read from multiple places.

If you've ever had a computer crash, you'll immediately see the benefit of using IMAP. See, when you store your mail on our servers (or, hopefully, any ISP's), we're using computers that are designed to prevent failure and data loss. The mailbox you're using is running on redundant hardware, so that if one part of it fails, we can fix it without losing anything, and we're making backups, too. Your home computer has a single hard drive, and maybe you're making backups (you should), but maybe you're not. If it fails, and you're using POP, there goes all your mail. Data recovery is really expensive, and, well, most people just cry and say goodbye to their email. If you're using IMAP, though, just go get that hard drive replaced, and when you come back and set up your email program again, you'll see your mailbox refilling with all your old mail. Technology is a beautiful thing sometimes.

Finally, IMAP can be set up to store all your folders on the server. POP is for your Inbox only, even if you tell it to leave your mail on the server.

Pobox Mailstore accounts include 10GB of storage, so add the power of IMAP to your account today. If you're a current Mailstore customer, all our setup instructions are for IMAP, so check them out if you want to see if you're set up correctly.


  1. Beside email resiliency, other IMAP advantages are:
    - if you tag a message with a flag, like "Important" you will see it marked on all of your machines
    - if you mark a message as read or unread, it will be marked on all of your machines
    - if you create a folder on your mail account, this folder will appear in all of your email clients (as soon as you subscribe to it)
    - if you move a message into a sub-folder, it will sorted on all of your machines

    In summary: with IMAP you organize your mail once and this organization follows you whatever the email client is.

  2. IMAP definitely is the way to go!

  3. Pegasus Mail is most certainly still under development. See for instance . Pegasus Mail's IMAP support is really very robust nowadays. There's no excuse for POP when every client, including the oldest pine/alpine/mutt/Eudora to the newest, like Thunderbird, Microsoft's shaky software, Evolution, KMail, Pegasus, etc, etc, etc, all support it.

    Still, don't be mourning POP till it's dead, and it's simplicity can still be useful in very specific circumstances, like getting the contents of one mailbox into another, or for processing mail in an automatic fashion -- but these shouldn't concern normal users whose providers support forwarding of mail. And everybody under the sun except Hotmail does that, now, too.