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Business Start Up Advice

POP, IMAP, Exchange: The three kinds of email

By 28 November 2012No Comments

In my last article I talked about how many people didn’t realise they needed to pay attention to who backs up their website. In a similar vein, this article is all about how not many small businesses put much thought into their email server – a very important decision. Very few people give much thought to what kind of email service they have. In fact, many people don’t actually realise that there is more than one option. However, each of the three types (POP, IMAP, and Exchange) each have distinct benefits and disadvantages so it’s worth being aware and thinking about which option will be best for your business. In this article I’ll outline the differences between the three, and at the bottom of the article I’ve put together a table so you can compare features across directly.

email envelope spilling binary code

POP (Post-Office Protocol)

POP is the most common type of email service retrieval for SMEs.  The majority of email addresses which follow the pattern of [email protected] will be using a POP application to retrieve email from a remote server.

Post-Office Protocol, as you might gather from the name works a bit like the postal service.  Someone sends a letter and it is collected by royal mail and then delivered to you.  You then have the letter and royal mail does not, so if you lose the letter you can’t expect royal mail to produce another copy.

  • Connect -> retrieve messages -> Store messages on the user’s PC as new messages -> delete messages from server -> disconnect.

The big benefit of POP is that it is very inexpensive, but it does have disadvantages. The servers can get full up quite quickly if you have lots of email, and when this happens your new email won’t be delivered to you (think of it as your post box being full to brim and no one being able to get any more letters in).  Additionally, whilst it is possible to collect the emails from multiple devices this does not work seamlessly; you’re left with multiple copies of emails in different places (so you delete in one place and you’ll still see it in another as you have no single store for sent messages). So POP isn’t so convenient if you like to work on the go.

IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol)

Internet Message Access Protocols (such as Hotmail and Gmail) do not deliver messages in the same way that POP does.  Instead IMAP gives you access to a remote store of all of your emails.  This means that you can access your email from any device which gives internet access, and your mailboxes synchronise across all your devices, keeping up to date.

  • Go to mailbox -> view messages -> leave mailbox



IMAP has several advantages over POP.  You can have multiple individuals connected simultaneously to the same mailbox and it has mechanisms for automatically detecting changes made by others.  You can also add tags and flags to your messages, and easily move messages, folders and mailboxes around on the server.  It also backs up automatically and has a much larger storage facility than POP.

Microsoft Exchange Server

Microsoft Exchange Server is a collaborative application product which synchronises information across your email, calendar, contacts and task lists.  It works with Microsoft Outlook to create a professional way of managing your workload, synchronising across devices and multiple users, giving you access to information and supporting data storage.

  • Open Outlook -> view emails and plan workload -> close Outlook



Exchange is by far the best email solution for businesses which have high email traffic.  It not only has excellent storage facilities, it also allows you to use your emails to automatically plan your work day, and it allows the sharing of emails and calendars with other members of your organisation.  The main disadvantage of Exchange is that it is more expensive – but it does make your emailing more efficient, and gives you the ability to mark an email to answer later without the danger of forgetting about it (as it will appear automatically in your calendar).

These are both qualities which add huge value.

Want to learn more?

We offer Exchange mailboxes from as little as £5 per user per month with no setup fee and no minimum contract.  If you want to find out more about which kind of email might be best for your needs why don’t you give us a call? We’d be happy to talk it through with you.

If you liked the practical advice of this article, you might be interested in a recent article put together by my colleague Lisa which has a brilliant list of useful keyboard shortcuts – very useful for referring to quickly!

Directly compared: POP, IMAP, Exchange





Latest Exchange Server 2010 technology

25GB per mailbox

Up to 10 email address aliases

Outlook Anywhere access (RPC over HTTPS)

Remote Web Access

Instant ‘push’ email

Global address list

Shared calendars

Shared tasks

Shared contacts

Public folder and subfolders (10MB/mailbox)

Distribution lists

Multiple domains

Access multiple inboxes from Outlook

Delegate access

Mobile ’Push & Sync’ technology

Sync with iPhone and iPad

Sync with Windows Phone

Sync with Android

Sync with BlackBerry BIS

Upgrade to BlackBerry BES

Remote mobile data wipe

Optional Outlook 2010 licence (£1 per month fee)

Outlook 2011 Mac licence (£1 per month fee)

Data replication for peace-of-mind

Every mailbox hosted on 3x Exchange servers for ultra resilience

99.9% financially-backed SLA


Anti-Virus protection

Instant activation

No set-up fees

40MB attachment size

Weekly total data back-up + 30 day real-time email flow archive

Secure SSL/TLS inbound and outbound available

Disclaimer – This table is simply to give you a good idea of the main differences between POP, IMAP and Exchange in most cases and it is based on what is generally supplied by most providers. Please bear in mind that in some cases there will be providers offering more functionality for certain types of email, particularly IMAP.

*Depends on Provider