by February 28, 2001 0 comments

The popular ways of accessing e-mail are either through a Web browser for a
Web-based service like Yahoo!, Hotmail, or Lycos; or through a mail client like
Outlook, Outlook Express (OE), or Eudora to access a mail server to send and
receive mail. Corporate accounts are often MS Exchange or Lotus Notes or other
groupware-solution based as well.

When you set up a mail account in a mail client, you are asked for the server
address of both your incoming and outgoing mail servers. Outgoing mail is always
sent using the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP). Incoming mail can be of two
types: using the Post Office Protocol (POP) or the Internet Message Access
Protocol (IMAP). In most cases, you set up a POP 3 account.

In this article, we’ll discuss how in certain cases using IMAP 4 can make
your e-mail management much better. This discussion will be based on standard
e-mail servers and clients. Both POP3 and IMAP4 have been around for some time,
even though IMAP4 is newer than POP3 and is a significant improvement over it.

Separate mail accounts

If you’ve used an e-mail client such as OE or Netscape Messenger, you’ll
know that even if you set up multiple accounts to check mail from, all of them
land up in the same inbox. That is, if you check your Usa.net, Yahoo!, and any
other POP accounts in OE, the mail from all accounts gets mixed up in the inbox.
This can be resolved by setting up multiple IMAP accounts, which creates new
inboxes for each account separately. You can check mail in each account and yet
have them stored according to the account that received it.

Server-side mail storage

In POP mail, the mail gets downloaded onto your local inbox when you access
it. You can choose to let it remain on the server only for a limited amount of
time. In IMAP, however, the mail is always stored on the server and only a copy
of it gets downloaded onto your machine. You can also create folders on the mail
server from your e-mail client and organize your mail on the server into
folders. The advantage of this is that your e-mail is instantly available and
organized wherever you access your mail from, be it from your office, home, an
airport through a notebook, or from your Palm or mobile phone. Server-side
storage means instant availability anywhere.

Mail headers

One of the biggest problems I used to face when I was using POP mail (which I
ditched around three years back for IMAP) was the large amount of junk, spam,
and huge attachment mail that I got. In a bad connection to the Net, my entire
mail would get stuck due to unnecessary mail that would clog up the incoming
mail. If a mail with a large attachment was unable to get through, so would
other smaller but more important mail.

In IMAP, you have the option to download only the headers first. From the
headers you can get a lot of useful information, like who the mail is from, who
are the recipients, the subject, priority, date, and size of the mail, and
whether there are attachments. Based on the quickly downloadable headers you can
decide which mail you want to download and in which order. In OE, you can simply
press <space> or mark the mail for later download.

Offline mail management

You can do most operations offline as well. That is, mark mail for download,
delete mail, move mail from one folder to the other, etc, even when you are not
connected to the mail server. When you do connect the next time, the mail server
will synchronize with the mail client and perform all the tasks in the same
order as you performed them. This makes mail management very cost effective.
Many times, I simply sync the headers of mail from my computer to my Palm (See
‘Internet Access with your Palm’ page 67), turn off my modem, and manage my
mail while watching TV. The next time I connect, all the tasks I did offline are
synced up in a few moments.

IMAP is a superset of the POP3 protocol. The only disadvantages to IMAP are,
one, that it assumes a pretty persistent Internet connection for you to do most
functions online on the server, and two, that the mail server must allow each
user to have a large amount of disk space for the advantages of IMAP to be used
to its fullest.

Most ISPs in India provide an e-mail account when you register with them.
Most of them also have IMAP support, but for some reason do not advertise it at
all. Try setting up an IMAP account on your mail client with the same settings
as that for your POP account. You may be surprised at the results. However, the
miserly amount of disk space that Indian ISPs give for e-mail doesn’t really
make the feature useful.

In free e-mail accounts, OperaMail. com, MailPlanet.net, and MailandNews. com
provide IMAP support with infinite, 40 MB and 10 MB of disk space for mail
respectively.

So get on to the IMAP bandwagon and enjoy the benefits of anytime, anywhere
e-mail access from a fast mail client (unlike the horrendously slow Web mail).

Vinod Unny is a technology
consultant with iSquare Technologies

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