The different types of email accounts

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We explore the differences between different types of email accounts.

You would think that everyone knew all about what email accounts are what, but the truth is, when you set up your own email accounts for the first time, the jargon can easily get in the way. Read on if they are not familiar to you as this will help when you are deciding how to set up and manage your email in the long run. If you already understand this, then, by all means comment or move on to the next article. If not, this is for you:

Email Clients vs Webmail

Larger businesses may often condemn webmail, but most of us are already familiar with it. If you have a Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail or similar account, then you are already using webmail. If you work in an office, and use a program or app like Microsoft Outlook, Windows Live Mail or Mozilla Thunderbird to manage your emails, then you are using an email client.

Both webmail and an email client serve exactly the same purpose: they are applications for receiving and sending email.

Webmail is an application that is written to be operated over the internet using a browser, which means you do not usually need to download and manage software locally. All the work is done by remote servers (computers you connect to via the internet).

Email clients are applications that are intalled on your local computer (your PC or the computers in your office). These interact with remote email servers to download and send emails to whoever you choose to send them to.

The final point to make about these two options is that they are not mutually exclusive. You can choose to use them both, depending on where you are, for example, by using webmail when you are travelling out and about on business and using an email client while you are in the office.

Email Protocols

There are three main mail "protocols" you need to recognise - POP3, IMAP, and the different types of Exchange protocols (MAPI, Microsoft Exchnge and Exchange ActiveSync). We will not be talking about the Exchange protocols in any detail, except to provide you with a brief point of reference and comparison for the future.

POP3 (Post Office Protocol)

POP3 creates local copies of your email and deletes them from the server. The emails are then tied to the machine on which they have been downloaded. Although it is based on an older technology when space was a lot shorter, it does solve the problem of online storage and bloat. It is the best to use, if the majority of your email is handled in the office (or at home) on a single computerand you only occasionally need to access and trace mail online.

Benefits of POP3

Everything is in one place on your mail client, which makes it easier to be organised and tidy.

Issues with POP3.

  • The risk of losing your email if you don't back up. You really need to make sure you keep copies of your email and back it up carefully, so that you can retrieve it in the future. Backups should always be made to a separate drive as losing all your mail can be catastrophic for a business.
  • If you have downloaded the mail, you cannot then access it on webmail.

IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol)

The original idea of IMAP was to make it easier for users to be able to access mail from many different clients or webmail interfaces, rather than being tied to one computer. IMAP's advantage is that you can see the same email in many places, because they are kept on a remote server until the user deletes them. It has become more and more popular as people get on the move.

Benefits of IMAP

Easy access to your emails from many devices.

Issues with IMAP

email bloat, because IMAP stores emails on a remotemail server. There is a trade-off for being able to access your emails anywhere, which is that they become more difficult to manage. As emails build up, so you get longer and loger lists to sort through to find the ones you want. There are ways to sidestep this by making local archived copies of emails and then deleting them from the remote server, but if you like to be tidy, this can cause problems.

You may also find that you have to increase your mailbox allowance periodially which may mean you need to secure extra space as part of your hosting contract.

Microsoft Exchange, MAPI and Exchange ActiveSync

Simply put, these are the various ways of communicating with Microsoft Exchange Servers. The result of doing is this is that you can then sync your emails, contact and calendars across several devices. Depending on the device, phone or client you use, this may be called any of the three Microsoft products (Exchange, MAPI or Exchange ActiveSync). For email purposes, it offers the same kind of experience as IMAP.

Issues with Microsoft exchage types of products - You will have to take out a Microsoft Licence of some kind or another, so this is an additional cost for a small business. They also require more skill to set up, so you may have to bring in an expert. As with IMAP, you will also get the issue of managing your email in two places, although you are unlikely to run up against similar storage problems.

Which email type should I choose?

This depends on a number of thiongs, but it is not too hard to narrow down the options. You can always change it in the future if it does not work for you.

  1. If you frequently check your email from a number of devices (phone, PC, tablet etc), then choose IMAP.
  2. If you are happy using webmail and able to check there frequently, again use IMAP.
  3. If you mostly use one email on one dedicated machine, then POP3 would be best, though you can use IMAP.
  4. If you get a lot of email build up on your server and a huge history to sort, you may want to use POP3 to keep your web mailbox tidy.`
  5. If you are used to using Outlook.com or Hotmail derivatives, then you may prefer to look at setting up a MAPI exchange service.
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