An introduction to webmail, Outlook, POP3, IMAP and Exchange.

Created: Monday, 11 August 2014 Written by Saskia

The internet changes. The way we access the internet changes. The way we connect with each other changes. But we still use email as before. Or not?

Most of us still use email as before, but there is a change going on in this subject as well. Before we all used a web based email address which we accessed on a webserver. Then more of us started to use a POP3 email in Outlook. The more tech savy ones moved to IMAP in their local Outlook. Nowadays we advise our clients to move to Exchange. Need some explanation? Read on, I will try to explain the difference between POP, Outlook, IMAP and Exchange in a few short paragraphs. 


Access to your mail: webmail & Outlook

There is a difference in how you access your mail.

If you use an email address that was provided to you by for instance Orange or BT or Nordnet? These are more or less the same as the GMAIL addresses many of us use. If you want to read your mail you go online at the address provided like or at for instance. This is called webmail. In your webmail online you will find your inbox and from here you can send, receive, delete and archive your emails.

Another way of accessing your email is to install an email management program on your computer. Examples of these are Outlook or Outlook Express. What happens when you connect your computer to the internet then Outlook is programmed to connect to the mail server to check if there is any mail waiting for you. It download any mail and deletes the original from the server (if you have set it up properly). All mail changes are handled locally on your computer and send from the mail program.


POP, IMAP & Hosted Exchange

With me so far? Than it is time to introduce POP. POP stands for Post Office Protocol. The version that is currently used is number 3, so there for you will also see POP3. But POP and POP3 are basically the same. I will refer to it as POP.

POP is actually a protocol that makes it possible to download your mail (like the ones mentioned above or if you have a website: the mail that come with the domain name) from a remote server on to your local computer. On your local computer you can manage your mail (read, make new, delete and archive). But these changes will only apply to your local mail program and will not synchronise with your online mailbox.

Although most POP clients have an option to leave mail on server after download, e-mail clients using POP generally connect, retrieve all messages, store them on the user's PC as new messages, delete them from the server, and then disconnect.

IMAP is also an email protocol to retrieve mails from the server in to your outlook or any other email application you use on your computer. Essentially IMAP keeps all emails on the server and only stores a copy on your computer, while POP does it more or less the other way round. Not many of our clients use IMAP. People use IMAP to work in different email boxes with more than one person or from different devices.

Hosted Exchange is a service provided by Microsoft and is in fact a whole package of services of which in the context of this article, I would like to highlight the mail function.

Mail that you receive in your Exchange account can be read on your local computer, or any other device or online in your webmail application. The biggest asset of Exchange is that any changes you make to any mails or your folder structure are synchronized on any other device that you use. Since I use Exchange myself, and am very happy with, I will give you an example of how it works in my situation.

If you send me an email I will simultaneously receive it on my desktop, laptop, IPhone and IPad. But my IPad is at home, as is my laptop. If I am in the office I will be working on my desktop, but if I am on the road I will read it on my IPhone.

Presume I am in the car when I receive your mail and I have a look at it and send you a quick answer from my IPhone. This means I have handled this mail and all of my devices will synchronise the mail so the mirror of my mailbox will be the same on all of my devices.


The three protocols compared

  • If you only use one device with one email address that is managed by one person than the POP protocol will work perfectly for you. Your mailbox on your computer is what you work from. There is nothing on the server.
  • If you have multiple devices than IMAP could be an option. The way the mail is organized on the server is what you work from. So if you want to make changes to the folder structure you should be doing it online.
  • If you have multiple devices than hosted exchange is the best option. All of your devices will have the same information at the same time, locally and online. Any changes will be synchronized immediately on all devices and on the hosted server.


Separate question could be: how many people need access to a mail box? If you have, for instance an This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. than you might want to set up facilities for more than one person to access and handle that mail box. If this is the case, than you should really switch to hosted exchange. You will never have to worry again about managing your mailbox.


My advice?

You need to concentrate on your business, not on your email. Make it as simple as possible and switch to hosted exchange as soon as you have more than one device OR a mail box that is managed by more than one person.

Not sure yet? Or need help sorting out your email? This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., so we can discuss a solution that will suit your personal situation.



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