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Seamless Communications

I have no idea how many times I check my email each day.

Whether from my phone, laptop or desktop, I use email most from within a few moments of waking up to right before I go to sleep. It’s become something of an addiction, but I also get a couple hundred emails each day, making it necessary to stay on top of the rush.

Recently, I helped a friend set up Microsoft Outlook on her laptop. Outlook is a powerful application that helps control email, calendar, contacts and more. It’s called a “third-party” or “desktop” application because it must be installed on your computer.

While setting up her accounts in Outlook, one of the most important questions that came up was whether to use POP or IMAP methods of retrieving email. There are sharp differences between the two.

POP stands for Post Office Protocol and allows an email client to grab emails from a remote server over an Internet connection. You can think of POP email as a one-way email system.

In other words, when you use POP to get your email, you are going from your device to the email server, capturing the email and pulling it onto your local machine. If you were to leave the message on the server by setting the POP preferences to do so, you could use a different POP application or device to retrieve the same message.

However, the inherent problem with POP is that multiple devices don’t know what each other has done with the retrieved message. For example, if you use your phone to read a message and reply, and then move to your laptop, the laptop application has no idea that you ever replied or if the message was read.

These problems spurred the invention of a different email method called IMAP, or Internet Message Access Protocol. IMAP has become readily available for most email applications. It’s a two-way email retrieval system, which means email applications leave the message on the server by default, and changes are noted for all devices.

If you were to read a message on your mobile phone and reply using IMAP, when you came to your laptop, you would see the same message noted as read and replied to. It’s a much more efficient and organized way to deal with email across multiple applications and devices.

As I explained this to my friend while setting up her Outlook, she was convinced IMAP email was a more dynamic, functional way to use email.

I couldn’t agree more. You typically have both choices when setting up any email system including Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo and more. Every system is a little different, so you should think about what makes sense for your specific situation before you jump into one method or the other.

[Originally published in The Coloradoan on 6/27/13]