I am very excited about IMAP support on Gmail. Maybe it isn’t healthy for someone to be so excited about e-mail … but this is huge.
Why? Especially when I already have a reliable IMAP service I’ve been happy with for years?
Well, first of all, lets talk about why IMAP is different from POP. Most people still use POP to access their email offline and don’t know what they’re missing. If you only use one computer, or don’t care about organizing your e-mail, this may be OK. But while POP lets you choose to leave your message on the server after you download it to your computer, you can’t put a message in a folder and have the same message also be put in the same folder on the server. IMAP lets you do that. With IMAP, if you have a folder for “family” and move a message from your brother into that folder, it will be in that folder on every computer you use. Its that simple.
How is Gmail different?
For one thing, Gmail uses “labels” not folders. I was wondering how they would handle that on IMAP, since on GMAIL the same message can be assigned multiple labels, but traditional IMAP only allows one message to be in one folder at a time. Fortunately, Google thought of that. When you access Gmail with IMAP, the same message will appear in a separate folder for each label. And you can assign multiple labels to a message by copying it (rather than moving it) to multiple folders.
Another advantage of Gmail is that it preserves entire conversations, not just individual messages. That means that if we send messages back and forth to each other 10 times about the same topic, all of our e-mails will be stored together. Most e-mail systems store my messages in a separate “sent messages” folder, so if I want to look back at what you are replying to I need to open that folder and do a search for my original message.
Another advantage of Gmail is its SPAM filtering. I get almost no SPAM on my Gmail account, which I use for all my bulk e-mail lists. Thousands of messages come in every week, but no SPAM. Simply amazing. With my current IMAP account I need to pay extra for advanced SPAM filtering, or I need to use software on my Mac. (Apple’s Mail software does a pretty good job of filtering SPAM after you train it for a few months.)
The other two advantages of Gmail are the fact that they have a fantastic web interface, with lightning quick searches (using a powerful search syntax), and that it is free. Not just free, but now 4GB of storage for free. My current IMAP provider never upgrades storage retroactively for existing users, I have to constantly check if he offers more storage for new users and ask to be given a new contract.
One last cool feature of Gmail is the ability to create “+” addresses. If your account is “[email protected]” you can add anything you want to the address, in order to make filtering that much easier. For instance, “[email protected]” could help you filter all your bank e-mail. Unfortunately, a lot of websites still don’t let you use the “+” sign in your e-mail address, but hopefully that will change.
The downside of Gmail is that if something goes wrong there is nobody I can turn to. My current IMAP is rock solid reliable. If I have any question support gets back to me almost instantly. But good support may not be enough to keep me away from the lure of Gmail.