Wednesday, April 23, 2008

email: POP or IMAP

POP email vs IMAP email

Most people view their email from a website. They log on to yahoo or maybe hotmail if they're kinda retarded or if they’re more informed, maybe gmail, and then view from their web browser. But there’s a better way. If you have an email client, which you probably do – Outlook on Windows (why are you on Windows, though?), or Mail on the Mac – and your email provider has POP or IMAP access as an option, why not just set up the mail client to log in to your account for you? This way, you save the steps of having to navigate to a website, log in, then find your inboxes or whatnot. Now, you simply start your client up, and it’s all there! Easy as pie. What’s more, you don’t’ have to ever actually quit your mail client; leave it running, and periodically it will check for new mail for you and inform you of its arrival, which is nice.

This is especially useful if you have more than one email address you access. For instance, I have at least seven email addresses I access daily, each serving a different function. I have one that serves this site, one that only friends and family know of, one that’s a throw-away from web forms, one that is for “work” and… well you get it. Anyway, I start up Mail, and it takes care of getting all my emails for me, every 15 or so minutes.

There’s a catch, though. You see, there’s two different ways that you can have your mail accessed, and the two behave quite differently. They each have benefits & drawbacks, so if you have the choice it might come down to being informed. How are they different?

POP works essentially by downloading your email to your machine. Your email client logs in, queries the email server, and downloads your email for viewing. This means that you will have a local copy of each and every email on your machine.

IMAP is different. With IMAP enabled, when you start your client, it again queries the server, but this time instead of downloading the message from the server, it is essentially just acting as a window to the messages. When you view an IMAP email, you’re peering through a window into the email server, where the email really is.

The upside of the IMAP setup is that you are not wasting disk space on your machine with emails. So depending on how many emails you have, this could save a lot of disk space. Another positive is that should your computer crash or otherwise be incapacitated, your emails are still safe on the email server. And also, you have the ability to keep your emails synced across machines. The downside is that since you're just viewing the emails, if you are away from the internet you will be unable to download any attachments or sometimes, even view old messages. The other less-likely downside – though it did happen at least once recently that I’m aware of – is that if the email server crashes & burns, you could potentially lose all of your email data with it.

POP has almost equal and opposite pros and cons. POP means storing your emails locally on your machine, but that means that you are able to access them at all times, regardless of whether or not you have an internet connection. Also, though you have the chance of losing all your emails if your hard drive goes kaput, if you are backing up regularly – like you should be – you’re insulated from this as well. And you never have to worry about those who serve your email losing it themselves!

This comes to a head for me because recently, one of the main channels I use for email access – google’s gmail – added in the option of doing either POP
or IMAP; usually you get one or the other.

Anyway, I have been using their email access via POP. I prefer POP, because the way I see it, my emails are MY emails, I don’t want to “rent” them from an email provider. Yes it means storing my emails locally, but in this age the space they take up is so miniscule as to be rather unimportant, archives and all. And with gmail’s almost-limitless server space, you can actually get the benefits of the IMAP experience – having your email on the server. If you initiate a POP email account and specify that you want the email server to keep a copy of all emails on the server, they will be there regardless of whether local catastrophe hits your machine.

Anyway, long story short I prefer POP. All of the arguments I see in favor of IMAP usually revolve around the data security & synchronized machines arguments; but if you don’t delete the messages from the server if you do POP, then you can actually achieve almost the same results, but with the added benefits of being able to “own” your messages, and/or access already-downloaded content whenever you want, internet access or no.

I really don’t see the benefit of IMAP, outside of businesses being able to control/regulate/read through all the emails of their employees at any time in a local manner. If that doesn’t pertain to you, then really it’s more a question of whether you’d rather rent, or own?

I prefer ownership.


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