When I first got email, it was long before Hotmail was a reality, let alone this concept of unlimited Gmail storage. Email was tightly controlled and maintained, with ‘free’ accounts being unheard of. If you didn’t get an email with your college, you didn’t get email. High School students, like I was in the baby-internet days, didn’t need email. This worked out to a lot of advantages, keeping kids off the nasty places in the ‘net simply by virtue of requiring an email address to log in.
Initially, we all used PINE for email and logged in via telnet into the server to access everything. ‘finger’ was a useful command, and you knew everything you needed to that way. I liked having all my email in one central location, since you always knew where to go to get it. But there were down-sides to this, of course. If the server was down, you had no way of reading your emails!
Shortly thereafter we got access to Eudora and POP3 email. Post Office Protocol version 3 (POP3) let you download your emails to your computer, putting the onus on you for maintaining and deleting your mail. It was deleted from the server once you downloaded it, and it was only on your computer. Initially, I was able to stash everything on a single floppy, or two depending on how I felt about things, and Eudora was just as useful as I wanted it to be.
For over a decade, I used POP3 and I was happy with it.
This last year, I’ve been using webmail on my laptop, while leaving my desktop running some lengthy process, and then later downloading everything to the desktop. This shortly became inconvenient, and while I could copy everything between the computers, I didn’t really enjoy it, and it was becoming a pain in my ass to run the sync. Not to mention webmail when you have one account is fine, but when you have 5 or 10 (long story) you want to shoot someone.
I’ve always known what IMAP did, but for whatever reason it never appealed to me. Basically, where POP3 downloads the email to your computer, IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) leaves it on the server and allows you to synchronize every time you access it.
E-mail clients using IMAP generally leave messages on the server until the user explicitly deletes them. This alets multiple clients to access the same mailbox. Most e-mail clients support either POP3 or IMAP to retrieve messages; however, fewer Internet Service Providers (ISPs) support IMAP. Basically POP3 offers access to a mail drop. IMAP4 offers access to the mail store.
Now there are downsides to IMAP. Once you delete that email and purge it, it’s gone. Forever. Quando is gone forever, sire (Only my father will get that reference *sigh*). And if your ISP takes a walk, you lose all your email forever. Except I really don’t keep a whole lot in my email any more, when I get around to it. I store bills and stuff for a while, but that’s really it. Everything else gets saved offline to a folder or deleted. If it’s something I need access to from multiple places, maybe I’ll keep it in the email for a while. But usually not.
So for now, it’s IMAP for me.