Outlook 2010 and IMAP Accounts

Understanding How Outlook 2010 and IMAP Email Accounts Interact

The IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) protocol addresses the biggest drawbacks of the POP3 protocol. However, it does introduce some wrinkles of its own.

Advantages of an IMAP Connection

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.

For example, if you were using a Gmail account configured to work with IMAP, you could work with your Gmail messages in Outlook, or, use any web browser to work with them on the Gmail website. Any changes you made on Outlook would be reflected on the Gmail webpage, and vice versa.

If you need to be able to work with your messages from multiple locations, and don’t haul your computer around wherever you go, you can use someone else’s computer or an Internet-enabled mobile device to get your email. This is a real plus for people who travel a lot.

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.

Drawbacks of an IMAP Connection to Outlook 2010

There are a few drawbacks or ‘gotcha’s’ related to using an IMAP connection. This is probably the thing that most surprises people. 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).

An IMAP connection synchronizes Outlook and your email service. 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.

But if you think about it, this behavior makes perfect sense. Because Outlook is synchronized with the mail service, what you see in Outlook needs to reflect what you see when you connect directly to your email account through your browser. So if there are folders on that end, there need to be identical folders on the Outlook side.

So that’s one drawback: with IMAP, messages don’t appear in the standard Outlook Inbox. They appear in their own set of folders. And this has a side effect. Because the messages don’t appear in the standard Outlook Inbox, they don’t trigger Desktop Alerts. It’s something to be aware of but not a big problem once you understand what’s going on and why it happens.

NOTE: You can create a rule to make Desktop Alerts appear for IMAP accounts. Visit the Adding Desktop Alerts page to see how.

There are a couple of other quirks that you should know about when using an IMAP connection. The IMAP protocol doesn’t support certain Outlook features. So these features work differently when you are working with an IMAP account than they do with a Microsoft Exchange mail account or a POP3 email account. The features in question are Categories and the Compact view in the reading pane.

Outlook 2010 give you lots of options when it comes to categories. You can assign colors, assign multiple categories to a single item, set fancy reminders for them, fun stuff like that. Unfortunately, IMAP doesn’t support all that stuff. So you can’t assign categories to IMAP messages.

Outlook 2010 also doesn’t support Compact view in the Inbox pane for IMAP messages. I’m not really sure why this happens, but If you compare the options under Change View in the ribbon for IMAP accounts versus other accounts, you will see very different options. This has tripped up a number of my students over the last year or so, and I want you to be aware of the issue. It’s not a big deal, but can be very confusing if you don’t know to expect it.

That sums up the key things you need to know about using an IMAP connection with Outlook 2010. I hope you found this information useful.

Please use the Back Arrow on your web browser to return to the page you came from and continue configuring your IMAP connection to Outlook.

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