I scream, you scream, we all scream for IMAP

The bulk of my email goes through GMail. I use Mozilla Thunderbird to access my mail from home, and I use the web front-end at work. When I’m using Thunderbird, I access GMail using POP. However, this is not a perfect solution – for example, emails that I’ve sent via the website appear in my Thunderbird inbox!

In October last year, Google started offering IMAP as an option. IMAP is basically a “souped up” version of POP: it’s more comprehensive – you get things like folders and better mail synchronisation: when I mark a message as “read” in Thunderbird, it would show up as read on the Google Mail website as well.

So, I tried setting up Google Mail using IMAP, in Thunderbird (following the instructions), and it worked fine. The problem is, the messages you download aren’t integrated with “Local Folders” in Thunderbird (for obvious reasons): traditionally, when I receive an email I index it in my “Local Folders” – i.e., the mail store on my computer. If I want to look it up again, I’ve got all the mail there – it’s easy.

Using IMAP it looks like things are pretty much stored on the server, and I’m not sure how that leaves me if (a) the server goes down (I suppose things are cached locally), but more importantly (b) if I don’t want a GMail account anymore. If I delete my GMail account, will I still be able to access my email?

Another problem is, for IMAP to be of use, you should really use it as your only account. I don’t want to have to look under “GMail” for one set of messages and “Local Folders” for messages sent via any other account.

I’m sure there are solutions to these problems… I’m just not exactly sure what they are right now!

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4 thoughts on “I scream, you scream, we all scream for IMAP

  1. I use IMAP all the time actually, I’ve found it to be a far more satisfactory approach to e-mails. Yes, you do have to trust Gmail to look after your mail, but I’m guessing they have a pretty comprehensive backup system so the likelihood of actually losing anything is pretty remote. And of course Gmail has arguably one of the best anti-spam systems around.

    I don’t think there’s any solution to having your e-mails split in Thunderbird between your IMAP account and a different account. The only solution really would be to put mail from you other account through Gmail (Gmail can import mail from other accounts via POP3) so it would all appear through the Gmail inbox. The advantage there would be that Gmail would also anti-spam your other mail accounts too while it’s at it!

    Moving to another account is fairly straightforward actually if you use IMAP, I’ve done it before. I set up Thunderbird so that I had both IMAP accounts there, and just dragged all the mail from one account to the other, and it’ll copy it all to the new account. It might take a while though, as it’s got to download all the mail to your computer and then upload it again, which is a pain, but it’s a solution.

    Ooh, another potential solution to the problem of having multiple accounts is to use Smart Folders, or whatever Thunderbird calls them, possibly Saved Searches… whatever. Basically you just set up a rule that aggregates all your mail based on certain criteria, so you can combine lots of accounts into one inbox, or just have a folder for mail received today or this week. Really neat, I use Smart Folders a lot these days, couldn’t live without them!

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