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Not All Email is Created Equal

If you’re like most professionals, you spend an inordinate of time composing, sending, and reading emails. In a business environment, that often means that you respond to email from your computer, and your phone, and your tablet—maybe even your watch.

The beauty and curse of today’s bring-your-own-device environment is that you are constantly connected to your coworkers and clients. Having a single mail account spread across multiple devices poses a unique set of challenges. Perhaps you responded to a message on your phone yesterday, but it still shows as unread in your inbox on your laptop. Maybe your coworker sent you a calendar invite that you accepted on your computer, but it’s not showing at all when you double-check the meeting time. So much of modern business runs on email that even small problems quickly escalate to the height of frustration. There is good news however—it doesn’t have to be this way.

To understand the source of the conflagration, allow me to wax technical for a paragraph. There are three main means of sending and receiving email: POP3, IMAP, and Exchange. POP, or Post Office Protocol, is the earliest of these mail sending protocols, and was developed to accommodate a very different internet than the one we all use today.

POP was designed to accommodate computers that were not constantly connected to the internet, rather they connected, downloaded or uploaded required data, and disconnected. POP has been through iterations since, and POP3 is the current standard. Although POP3 is fast, it manually downloads all copies of messages to whatever client you are using—Outlook, your phone, etc.

POP3 mailboxes also store sent messages on the device they are sent from, meaning that they cannot be retrieved from another device at a later time. POP3 mailboxes are the main cause of mismatches between read and unread messages and unsynced calendar items across multiple devices. IMAP, or Internet Messaging Access Protocol, mitigates most of the limitations of POP3.

Rather than storing mail on the client, all messages in an IMAP mailbox are stored on the server. Clients that have an IMAP mailbox configured are capable of syncing with one another, this means that if you read a message on a phone, that change is reflected in Outlook on your laptop, because the actual “reading” of the message is occurring on the mail server.

The primary limitation of an IMAP mailbox is that they offer a limited amount of storage. Microsoft began developing Exchange around the same time as IMAP and POP3, but it was geared mainly towards the enterprise. Today, Exchange has largely become the standard in large organizations.

Exchange offers all of the syncing capabilities of IMAP. This means that a calendar item you added on your phone will sync automatically to Outlook on your laptop, the mail client on your tablet, and indeed your aforementioned smart watch. Any place that you have an Exchange mailbox added will sync automatically as long as it has an available internet connection.

Since it was designed for the enterprise, Exchange has far more configurable permissions, the ability to create resource mailboxes, shared calendars, and distribution lists. Up until recently, all of this capability came at a steep price. In order to have access to an Exchange mailbox, you needed to have a dedicated Exchange server, licensing for which was considerably expensive compared to IMAP and POP3 mailboxes, which are often free.

This is to say nothing of the hardware required to run the Exchange environment. Microsoft sought to change all this with the advent of Office 365, effectively opening Exchange capabilities to the SMB marketplace. All of the server infrastructure is hosted by Microsoft, and pricey yearly licenses have been replaced with monthly subscription fees.

All of this is not to say that Exchange is a panacea. It is, however, effectively the standard mail protocol for the Enterprise because of its capabilities, its tie-in to Outlook, and capability to be centrally managed. Exchange eliminates the frustration of mail unsynced between multiple devices, massively increases mailbox storage space, and allows the Exchange administrator levels of granular control and configurability not offered by either POP3 or IMAP mail providers.

Your business runs on email—if your email is a constant source of frustration, or you have to work with it rather than having it work for you, consider upgrading to a mail protocol designed for your business.

Written by Tristan Collopy

Mythos Technology is an IT consulting and management firm. For more information, please visit or call (951) 813-2672.

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