Updated February 18, 2012
Understanding Email Account Types
Outlook 2010 can work with many different email account types, providing that they use one of the protocols Outlook understands. These protocols (sets of rules) determine how the mail servers interact with Outlook, and control what kinds of connection you can make. The four email account protocols that Outlook 2010 can work with are:
Let’s talk a bit about each type, with emphasis on the way their characteristics affect how they work with Outlook 2010. First up, MAPI.
The MAPI (Messaging Application Programming Interface) protocol used by Microsoft Exchange is powerful and flexible. It allows you to work with messages in Outlook, while simultaneously storing copies of your messages on the Exchange Server.
Further, these copies are kept synchronized, so your messages are always current, whether on the server or in Outlook. Make a change in Outlook, and that change gets synched over to the copy on the Exchange Server. This becomes important if you need to log into your Exchange account from a different computer, or if something happens to your local copy of Outlook and your messages are lost. So no matter how you view your email account, the information is always up to date.
My main email account is on an Exchange Server. This way, I know my mail is backed up regularly (something I seldom remember to do on my own). Perhaps more importantly, since I have several computers all running different versions of Outlook, the Exchange Server and MAPI guarantee that my Outlook data is consistent across all those machines.
POP3 (Post Office Protocol 3) is an older, more limited protocol. However, it is also probably the most widely used email protocol on the Internet, despite its limitations. I use POP3 to make a Yahoo Outlook 2010 connection.
With an email account that uses POP3, messages are copied from the mail server and then are typically deleted from the mail server. Why? Because POP3 doesn’t support any synchronization between Outlook 2010 and the mail server. If I delete, move, reply to a message that has been downloaded to Outlook, none of that information gets back to the POP3 server.
This is why messages are normally deleted from the POP3 mail server once downloaded to Outlook. If they aren’t deleted, you end up with two copies of the same mail message, which may or may not be in the same state.
To make this clearer, let’s imagine for a moment that we don’t have it set up so that messages get deleted from the POP3 server after Outlook downloads them. So we fire up Outlook and it downloads copies of all of our messages, but does not delete them from the POP3 server.
You read a message that purports to be from your friend Joe, but actually tries to sell you something unmentionable. You delete the message and it goes into Outlook’s Deleted Items folder. So far so good.
Later that day, you decide to log into your POP3 mail account through your web browser since you are at an Internet cafe killing some time before the big concert. You check your mail, and there’s a message from Joe. Well it is made to look like a message from your friend Joe, but actually tries to sell you something unmentionable.
Wait! Didn’t you already deal with this message? Yes you did, in Outlook. But since POP3 doesn’t support synchronization between your mail program (Outlook 2010) and your POP3 mail server, each location has its own independent copy of the message.
Can you see how this quickly becomes impractical? That’s why mail programs like Outlook download messages from POP3 servers, then delete the original message.
As long as you only need to get your mail in one place (your Outlook 2010 Inbox), POP3 works just fine. But if you need to be able to view your email account messages from multiple computers, this protocol might not be the best choice.
The IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) protocol addresses the problems of POP3. With IMAP, your messages are synchronized between the IMAP server and Outlook 2010, so your data is current in both places. That means you can log into either the IMAP server (if you don’t have acces to Outlook at the moment) or into Outlook, and work without worries.
Because your messages remain on the IMAP server, they get backed up for you, which is a nice bonus. In addition, if it makes sense in your situation (you are working somewhere with very slow Internet access, for example), you can configure an IMAP connection to send you message headers, instead of the entire message. Only when you try to open a message will its contents get downloaded.
Most of that stuff is transparent to us as Outlook users. But here’s something that catches people off guard. When you have an email account that uses an IMAP connection, Outlook creates a separate set of folders for that connection (you can find them in the Navigation Pane).
IMAP gives Outlook access to multiple folders, rather than just dumping copies of messages into the Outlook Inbox. So Outlook creates a separate set of folders that corresponds to the folders it sees on the IMAP server. I’ve gotten numerous messages in the last year from people who didn’t expect this behavior and were worried because they didn’t see the messages from their IMAP email account in the Outlook 2010 Inbox.
Gmail is perhaps the most popular email service using IMAP.
Windows Live Hotmail works with Outlook similarly to the way IMAP does. The biggest difference from our perspective is that to connect to your Hotmail account from Outlook 2010, you should use install the Outlook Hotmail Connector, a free Outlook add-in from Microsoft. You can learn more about this on my Hotmail Outlook 2010 page.
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