Story by: Colophon Editor
November 1, 2012

Email has become an indispensable part of our everyday lives. In our businesses we rely on email as a way to communicate and record business tasks. Email services are not all the same and your choice of an email service provider can make a big difference in the way your business handles this critically important communications tool.

To make a good choice in email services it is important to understand the basic difference in email technology and related terminology. We will discuss the differences between webmail and email clients, the mail email protocols, and how the cloud is part of email. Businesses should also consider the volume of email that will need to be managed, and storage capacity needs.

Webmail vs. Email Client

Before discussing the different service offerings, it is important to understand the basic differences in email and related protocols. The first thing to understand is the difference between webmail and email clients. Both are software that was written to send, receive and organize email.

Webmail is an email program that is created to run in a browser. If you have ever used Yahoo Mail, Gmail, or managed your company email through a browser window, you have used webmail. There is nothing to download and no extra program is installed on your local computer.

An email client is an email program that is installed on personal computers and runs on the operating system of the computer. Microsoft Outlook and MAC Mail are the two most popular forms of email client.

Both webmail and email clients interact with the cloud – that is they communicate with an email server that is in a remote location – generally at a data center.

POP3 (Post Office Protocol) vs. IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol)

Whether using webmail or an email client, both can be configured as POP3 or IMAP. The first version of POP email was created in 1984 with the simple goal of creating a way for an email program to pull a message from the server and get it to a local computer.

Engineers had in mind a way to allow people to quickly get an email message, then read and store the message in an offline environment. POP2 and POP3 protocols quickly followed, and while the technology really catered to an early Internet of low-bandwidth and low-capacity server storage, it has remained a very popular way to manage mail.

IMAP was also created way back in the 80’s, but is more suited to today’s faster Internet and abundance of storage space. In an IMAP set-up, mail stays on the server and can be viewed by different email clients. Almost all mobile devices are now configured with IMAP settings, making it easy to view your mail on the go, while maintaining a copy for viewing on another computer.

So, what is the right service for your business? In many cases a small business can run a webmail system with POP3 settings and have great success managing their mail. If most of your office workers are sitting at their desks and handling email tasks in one place, a typical POP3 setup using webmail is fine.

If on the other hand your company is mobile and requires constant access to messages in multiple locations, IMAP is the right setting, and you are likely to require larger storage capacity to accommodate these message that are being stored on the server. If this is case, you may want to consider some of the excellent options that are available.

Some Good Available Services

GOOGLE APPS Google offers a suite of products that include using your company domain name on the GMAIL platform. Their server storage space is nearly limitless, and while some people don't like the GMAIL interface, it syncs well with most devices and is very robust.

EXCHANGE SERVER MicroSoft's Exchange Server has been the industry standard for corporate email for the past 15 years. Companies running exchange servers have always been on the cloud. In this environment you are using web-based email with a program that looks and feels almost identical to Outlook on your desktop. While at your main workstation you actually use Outlook. In addition your company can share calendars and other global resources.

APPLE ICLOUD Of course Apple has become one of the leaders in cloud email offering their Apple iCloud. With seamless syncing to all other Apple products, this is an excellent solution for the MAC-based office, or those groups with greater technical skills for intermingling platforms.

Contact us to learn more about cloud services for business productivity.

James M. Eastman is the founder of Colophon New Media, which specializes in website development and hosting solutions, website maintenance and website marketing services, based in Charleston, SC.

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