October 24, 2007

IMAP coming to GMail

Writing about web page https://mail.google.com/support/bin/topic.py?topic=12806

Gmail is great, except that you have to either use the web client or pop your messages off it and into an email client. If only it supported IMAP, then you’d be able to use a nice client such as Thunderbird but still keep all your messages on the GMail server so you don’t have to worry about keeping your messages in sync when you move from one computer to another.

And it looks as though the wait is finally over: some users are supporting that IMAP support is appearing in their account settings screen, and the Google docs centre has a bunch of pages about IMAP support. Combine this with the recent bump in space (the allocation for my account has gone from 2.8GB to 4.4GB over the last few weeks), the excellent support for access from mobile devices, and there’s not much more I can think of to want from an email service.


- 23 comments by 5 or more people Not publicly viewable

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  1. Steve Rumsby

    Yup. It seems to work very well. Labels appear as folders in Outlook.

    But Outlook is currently copying stuff down slowly but surely, presumably so I can still read my mail when offline? I can’t find a way to tell it not to. If you have a lot in your gmail account then you might want to check this out carefully – you might end up with a very big PST file! And don’t think about looking at the “All Mail” folder – that takes a very long time to open. I do have a little over 128,000 messages in there:-)

    I’m not entirely clear whether reading mail this way has enough advantages for me to prefer it over the web interface.

    24 Oct 2007, 10:47

  2. Steve Rumsby

    Of course, Outlook is only downloading the message headers. Obvious, really. It downloads the message body only if you try reading the message. But still, my gmail PST file is almost 500MB and growing…

    One thing to be aware of is that messages that have multiple labels appear in multiple folders in the IMAP view, and will therefore be downloaded (either headers or headers and body) multiple times. I think the “All Mail” folder behaves the same way, too, so looking at that will download everything again. So, even if you do only download headers then the PST file can get quite big quite quickly.

    24 Oct 2007, 10:53

  3. John Dale

    I wouldn’t use Outlook as an IMAP client, period, I don’t think. See this article.

    24 Oct 2007, 10:54

  4. Steve Rumsby

    Yes, but I already run Outlook for other reasons. Why would I want to run a different client just to use IMAP with gmail? That is definitely not worth it. If Outlook doesn’t work well, then I’ll just use the web interface. I’m still trying to decide whether I want to use IMAP at all…

    24 Oct 2007, 11:10

  5. Mike Willis

    Thunderbird can POP mail without ever deleting it from the server. You just have to select ‘Leave messages on server’ and ‘Until I delete them’.
    I only use GMail via the web interface but I have Thunderbird POP the messages just so I have my own copy against Google losing them.

    24 Oct 2007, 17:47

  6. John Dale

    Absolutely, you can POP and leave a copy. But that isn’t what I want; I want a single canonical instance of my messages, and I want my sent messages on the server as well as my received ones.

    24 Oct 2007, 18:01

  7. Steve Rumsby

    This might be a stupid question, but I hope not because I’m currently thinking hard about the answer! why not just use the web interface? That does what you want…

    24 Oct 2007, 18:23

  8. The web interface varies between mail servers. It’s nice to have the same interface whichever server one is using.

    My gripe is why aren’t email files transportable? I can copy one word processor file from one machine to another easily enough and open it on the the second machine, make updates and then copy it back. If email files were transportable (in that sense) I’d just synchronise before switching machines, just as I do with all my other applications.

    IMHO, an obscure reason has led the writers of email clients to pollute their code with knowledge of the storage layout of the platform.

    24 Oct 2007, 19:27

  9. Robert Southgate

    Its still nice to have all your email in one place though, I just hope IMAP gets enabled on my account soon, its been far too long coming for gmail, and I think if hotmail hadn’t bumped up their storage I’d be using gmail as soon as mine goes IMAP.

    With regards to that IMAP Outlook article linked above, a lot of it is out of date now, Outlook 2k7 supports deleting when switching folders (better than before at least), as well as saving sent messages in the sent folder of the IMAP account rather than locally and as you type search (I’m sure there’s a technical name for it), although does require windows desktop search installed which is a bit of pain (although isn’t a problem if you are using Vista).

    24 Oct 2007, 19:36

  10. Steve Rumsby

    Yes, I’m using outlook 2OO7 and it seems to work fine so far. No complaints.

    As for different servers having different interfaces, just aggregate everything in one you like. I feed all my mail into gmail.

    24 Oct 2007, 20:02

  11. Steve Rumsby wrote:-

    As for different servers having different interfaces, just aggregate everything in one you like. I feed all my mail into gmail.

    But then when you click on reply or reply-all there’s always the same address in the from field. You have to change it yourself, that is if it’s possible to change the from-address with outgoing webmail.

    I doubt whether it’s possible to drag a message from a mailbox to a mailbox on another server.

    A lot depends on whether one wants/must use other people’s computers to access mail, and if one does whether one wants to keep a solid distinction between the email on other people’s computers (e.g. an employer’s) and the email on one’s own computers. Perhaps an employer, for security reasons, would prefer a clear distinction to be maintained.

    24 Oct 2007, 22:59

  12. Steve Rumsby

    Gmail does indeed allow you to select the from address, and have a default that isn’t gmail’s own. As you say, this is pretty much a required feature if you are going to use a service as an email aggregator.

    25 Oct 2007, 07:37

  13. Sending mail using webmail when you also use POP seems to have bizarre results.

    When I sent a message using gmail’s implementaton of webmail, it put a copy of the message in its sent-mail folder. When I accessed gmail over POP a copy was then put into my computer’s inbox. I suppose that’s because POP doesn’t support the transmission of folder or label information.

    25 Oct 2007, 10:25

  14. Steve Rumsby

    It is more a peculiarity of Gmail rather than of POP, I think. I actually find this helpful. Like Mike Willis above I POP everything out of gmail so I’ve got a local backup. This behaviour means my backup contains my sent messages too.

    25 Oct 2007, 10:33

  15. It’s a peculiarity of Gmail to send sent messages over POP, isn’t it the case that POP can’t transmit information like folder name or label?

    It seems that IMAP can convey such information – but what exactly the sender sends and what the receiver makes of it appears to be implementation dependent (see your comment 2).

    I see that Thunderbird2 supports loads of tags, with each message having as many as the user wishes. However some of the features of Thunderbird2 tags can’t be transmitted over IMAP.

    25 Oct 2007, 20:10

  16. John Dale

    Steve wonders, why not just use the web interface? It’s an entirely reasonable point; the GMail web interface certainly does everything I need it to. I suppose it’s just a preference thing, really; I prefer the UI “feel” of a desktop client such as Thunderbird to the GMail web interface; I like the three-pane widescreen view and the fact that the menus and toolbars are specifically for mail rather than being the browser chrome. But it would be wrong to say that any of that is essential; I’m probably 80% as comfortable in the GMail web interface as I am in a desktop app interface, so it’s a marginal improvement rather than a critical one for me.

    Thinking about it, actually, I wonder if this is a possible portent for other apps which offer online, browser-based tools to mimic what can be done with desktop apps. Will there be people who say of, for example, GoogleDocs, “Sure it does everything I need a word processor to do, but I just like using Word more”? Never under-estimate inertia and learned preferences as reasons not to change…

    26 Oct 2007, 14:02

  17. Steve Rumsby

    I think Google Docs and related have some way to go before they have all the functionality I would need. I’ve used them for simple stuff, both at home and work, and they do work very well as far as they go. But there is functionality missing in all of them that means I can’t completely abandon a local app. But no doubt this will improve with time. One obvious thing they need to do is offer an offline capability, using GoogleGears or something similar. Without that I’m going to need local apps anyway to work when I’m away from connectivity (which does happen from time to time:-) But in 12 months time, who knows? The ability to have access to all of your documents from any connected machine, regardless of the local installed apps, is an amazingly useful thing. I regularly use 4 different machines between home and work, and occasionally others. And which is better backed up, my systems at home, or Google? I keep a lot of my photos in Picasa just as a backup.

    The better home broadband connections get, the more usable hosted applications will be. It won’t be long, I’m sure…

    To get back to gmail, I’m struggling to think of significant reasons why I’d need to access my gmail account via anything but the web interface. For many things, searching being the main one of course, the gmail web interface is actually much, much better than the alternatives. If the gmail web interface was the only email interface I ever used, I’d be happy!

    26 Oct 2007, 16:32

  18. If the day dawns when I can easily upload the thousands of messages I’ve got on my desktop to gmail and gmail turns the folder information (I’ve over 50 of them) into labels, I’ll think about a network based solution.

    Takes me back to the days when my shadow first darkened the doors of a computer science department. Teletypes, mainframes, telephones made of ratchets & springs…..

    27 Oct 2007, 09:39

  19. John Dale

    Should anyone still be interested, Lifehacker have an article on using Thunderbird with GMail and IMAP which enumerates what they see as the advantages. One interesting one which I hadn’t thought of: you get the ability to sort messages by size, and thus easily find and remove your biggest attachments to free up space efficiently.

    27 Oct 2007, 21:39

  20. Rachel

    We cant follow all this stuff cant you explain as you go along. not evryone understands this type of thing.

    27 Oct 2007, 21:40

  21. Robert Southgate

    If the day dawns when I can easily upload the thousands of messages I’ve got on my desktop to gmail and gmail turns the folder information (I’ve over 50 of them) into labels, I’ll think about a network based solution.

    This is possible now, just copy all your existing email into your gmail using IMAP.

    27 Oct 2007, 22:35

  22. Sorry Rachel, but it takes too much time to explain complex things. We are too busy to explain the concepts behind the words “Client” “Server” & “Protocol”.

    Warwick Students are thought to be clever, but even they are not allowed on courses without a dozen years of schooling!

    So I’m waiting for activation of IMAP on my GoogleMail account and in the meantime thinking about which keywords to use as labels.

    29 Oct 2007, 14:57

  23. Steve Rumsby

    Well, after trying it for a little while I’ve decided to go back to the web interface. I just like it more…

    30 Oct 2007, 13:45


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