1049. That sound you heard over the net everywhere today was the sound of power users having a simlutaneous techgasm over the revelation that Gmail, the service pretty much everyone (including me) uses to stay connected, now offers IMAP (Internet Messaging Access Protocol).
There's so much fanfare over it that made me wonder about it–what it was and why I'd want to use it. So I went looking for information, my question: I've used POP for years now. It works just fine. Is this something I really need to care that much about?
IMAP, stripped of all the tech-jargon, is an email protocol that differs from tradtional POP mail essentially in that what you see on your home machine is what you got on line. Right now, the way my email is configured, I use POP and have Gmail trash the messages as I download them.
In an IMAP setup, the configuration of read and unread messages, folders, everything, is mirrored on my mail server. With POP, if I log in anywhere else, I see what hasn't been downloaded to my home yet. With IMAP, I see in Gmail what I have on my home machine, no matter where I log in.
But I still wondered why I would want to move over to an IMAP setup vice POP. I found a page at Columbia University that put it into perspective pretty well:
IMAP keeps the mail folders on the server, and it is compatible with Webmail and Pine. You can switch between different computers, mail programs, Webmail, and Pine, and they will all show the same mail folders and have the same messages marked as seen. If you want this flexibility, use IMAP.
POP keeps the mail folders on the PC. This has some advantages for speed and offline use, but requires that you always read mail with the same PC, which may be true if you carry a laptop around, or always read your EE Columbia mail from the office.
So, if you're lucky enough to be reading email from multiple computers (as in that fabulous future when I finally have the MacBook Pro I so richly deserve) then IMAP would be of a benefit, but the way it looks, if you just have a desktop machine or just one computer and read all your email on that computer, then at best it really doesn't matter how you do it.
Of course, me, with my one computer, all I really care about is that my email get to me. And I get that either way.