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Issue #350: April 6, 2014

Q: I purchased a new Windows 8 computer to replace my Windows XP (SP3) laptop. On the laptop, I had Office 2010 installed and loved using Outlook with my Cox pop3 account. I purchased Office 365 for my new computer and it installed nicely. Love it! Except…a couple of days later, my email seemed to throw up. All the messages in my inbox were gone–read and unread. I checked the laptop to see what was on it and, lo and behold, there they were! To make a long story short, I forwarded them to my Yahoo account and from there back to my Cox account. Life has been good until today. Same thing happened again. Email–gone. I checked with my husband (now the proud owner of the hand-me-down laptop for his shop) and he told me he had ordered a catalog earlier on the internet. Sure enough, I opened Outlook and there were all my emails. The question is this, what is the difference between a Pop3 account (on the laptop) and an IMAP account (on the desktop) and how can I resolve this issue short of kicking him off email? I tried to reconfigure my desktop email account to a pop3 account but couldn’t. I think I figured out that the POP3 account deletes email off the server when it is delivered, but the IMAP does not.

– Nicci R.
Niceville, Florida

A: Wow Nicci, you practically answered all your own questions.  However, let me try and make my other readers as smart as you are before I fill-in the last missing piece of your knowledge.

During their lifetime, e-mails exist in several different locations, and sometimes in multiple locations at once.  They generally start and end their lives in e-mail client software, which is generically any software that you run to send and read e-mail.  This includes software like Outlook, Windows Live Mail, and Thunderbird, but also includes e-mail apps on smart phones and pad devices, and even webmail services. E-mail uses the Internet as a medium to travel to and from e-mail clients, and in between is stored in repositories on what is called an e-mail server.  The server is like the Post Office.  When your snail mail isn’t in your possession, it is in the hands of the Post Office.  When it’s delivered to you, it’s put in your mailbox.  Your e-mail client is to e-mail what your mailbox is to snail mail.

In your message, you mentioned both POP3, and IMAP.  These are not accounts – they are protocols, which describe how e-mail clients and servers interact with each other.  Think of a protocol as the set of rules that govern the communication between the two.  POP3, or Post Office Protocol 3, as you discovered downloads e-mails from the server to the client, and by default, deletes them from the server (although there is usually an option called “Leave a copy on the server”).  IMAP, which is the Internet Message Access Protocol, is a more modern protocol in which messages are left on the mail server.

There are advantages to each protocol, but the way most people use e-mail these days, IMAP is almost always the better choice.  Using IMAP, you can access e-mails from multiple devices without them interfering with each other (for example, your laptop and your desktop, or your home PC and your smart phone).  If you move or delete a message on one of the devices, it is moved or deleted on all devices, because all the devices are looking at the same, single copy of the e-mail.  That doesn’t work with POP3, because even if you set up POP3 to leave your e-mail on the server, each device downloads its own copy of each message.  If you move or delete a message on one device, it will remain as it was on all the other devices.

So the ultimate solution for you is to first understand that you don’t have “Pop3 account” and an “IMAP account” – you have one e-mail account.  You just need to set up all of your e-mail clients to access that account using the IMAP protocol, and they’ll start working together rather than against one another.

Don’t Forget: Microsoft is officially ending support for Windows XP on April 8th!  This is your final warning.  After April 8th, there will be no more automated updates for XP.  If you’re on XP and you’re using Microsoft Security Essentials, antimalware updates will continue “for a limited time” (Microsoft hasn’t said how long).  The longer you continue to use Windows XP, the greater your security risks, and the more vulnerable your personal data becomes.  Also, as the rest of the world reluctantly moves on, you’ll find an increasing amount of hardware and software that gets updated and will not work on your system.  I know all these dire warnings still will not motivate some of you, since I routinely get e-mails from people still running computers using operating systems all the way back to Windows 95.  All I can say is best of luck to you if you don’t upgrade.  We’ll see you some time in the future.

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