Email, POP, SMTP, Exchange, but which one should you use? and why!

The past week has been designated as “Freaky Email Week”, why? Well we have had so many unusual problems with email I do not know where to begin, but will rather give you the run down on email use.

Email comes in a number of variants and you may have heard of Webmail, POP, IMAP and Exchange. As a user, you want to view emails, send emails and search them, but there is so much more to consider when choosing what to use. Such as recovering deleted mail, PC failure and spam control.


If you have used a Hotmail, Gmail or many other web page accessible email, you have been using Webmail. It is either as a basic email only system ie inbox, sent items etc or with Contacts, calendar, Word etc, designate either, OWA, Hosted Exchange or Outlook (on the web, not to be confused with Outlook the installed program) more on this later. While a great product Webmail is limited in the slow use in using, attaching files and not being able to link to CRM’s or other programs. It is great for an emergency, when someone sends a large email which your mail client wont download or to prove you have the correct password for your mail client.

Pros : There are usually from account at Hotmail and Gmail. Always on if you have an internet connection.

Cons : using a free service such as Hotmail or Gmail could leave you high and dry if the service is hacked or fails, as you likely will have no recourse with the supplier.

POP/IMAP – Downloading

This is where you use an email client program such as Outlook, Outlook Express(old but still used), Mozilla Thunderbird or many others, is used to download your email from the Webmail server on to your PC. By download, I mean emails are retrieved from your Webmail server and held within the Email client and can be viewed when you are not connected to the internet. POP is used where you are just working with emails and will only download from your Inbox and send using the Outbox. With POP, email downloads and removes the email off of the webmail server, but there is a tick in the settings to “Leave on the server”, but usually the mailbox is quite small and can fill quite quickly, so advise using IMAP or Exchange. IMAP is more of a syncing system, which sync’s all mailboxs, contacts and calendasr with your Outlook. This can be used on multiple devices but can give issues and is not usually that well support for recovery of deleted mail. Mail boxes for POP and IMAP are usually around 400Mb so not huge. Considerations with POP/IMAP – firstly setting up within an email client, if you use the automatic settings usually you will get IMAP which will often set you up with multiple personal folder. Using POP you can setup multiple accounts but have email filtered in to one inbox etc. Secondly there is the consideration of backup. This is not an obvious process for most email clients and is usually a manual process, which involves closing the program, finding the data and manually copying to an external drive. In the years I have been supporting clients, I know of very few that backup email manually and usually we setup an automated process, but usually encourage Hosted Exchange.

Pros : POP is usually a cheap service and IMAP allows a form of syncing folders.

Cons : POP downloads your emails and if your PC crashes you lose everything unless you have backed it up. IMAP can give unusual issues with folders syncing across multiple devices.

Exchange (Hosted Exchange) – Syncing

Exchange refers to a server program that acts as an email incoming and outgoing manager. Exchange is either installed on a local, in office server, or is supplied as Hosted Exchange, installed on a web server or cloud server. The cloud based server is taking over from an onsite servers for small to medium businesses, usually less than 20. It is supplied on a per user mailbox with a monthly fee, but gives a number of advantages over Webmail and POP/IMAP. We ask clients to think of Hosted Exchange as a mail server, which will allow you access as either Webmail, use Outlook (2007, 2010, 2013 or Mac 2011) or via a smartphone and allow synchronisation of items of Email, Contacts, Calendar and Tasks across all devices. It also adds sharing of all items ie you can share your contacts to another user on the same domain or can use Public folders to create a shared calendar, such as a “Holiday” diary. The Exchange is fully backed up, therefore should your PC fail, a replacement can be re-setup and all you mailboxes etc would then re-synchronise back to your Outlook. Hosted Exchange can be an add-on to your domain and supplied as a separate service but in most cases you must have your own domain. If you have @gmail or @hotmail, you cannot use this, although have their own product, confusingly called Outlook.

Yes we promote and sell Hosted Exchange. Yes we use ourselves and would not be without it. Yes we have clients that use all three and we are happy to support them all. 

So in conclusion Webmail is great but limited, POP/IMAP are usable but dated and limited, Hosted Exchange is more costly but has great resilience and use.


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