HTTP vs. POP vs. IMAP vs. Exchange

HTTP

  • Web-based email
  • Not made for access other than the web
  • Some HTTP accounts can be checked given the right client tool (like Outlook can check Hotmail)

POP

  • Not made for keeping multiple computers/devices and web in sync
  • Generally, mail is downloaded from the server upon checking it (unless you use a tool like Outlook which has the ability to leave it on the server)
  • Even if you leave messages on the server, if you delete on remote device, it will not delete on the server (unless you have a client tool like Outlook which will give you some options)
  • If you send from remote device, it is not pushed to a sent items folders on the server
  • Only brings messages down in the Inbox (not sub-folders)
  • No good push capability for mobile devices (as of this writing)
  • POP is low cost
  • Most personal email accounts use POP (i.e. Gmail)

IMAP

  • Keeps multiple computers/devices and web in sync
  • Mail is left on the server when checked
  • Inbox and sub-folders are brought down to client machine/device
  • Push mail available on mobile devices, but many complain of poor support
  • Newer than POP
  • Catching on among personal users who do not have Exchange

Exchange

  • The most robust email platform
  • Mail is kept on the server
  • Allows calendar, tasks, notes, etc. in addition to email
  • Allows group collaboration of calendars, etc. when used in a group environment
  • Excellent about keeping everything (PCs/mobile devices/web) in sync
  • Push email for mobile devices (Blackberry and non-Blackberry with Exchange ActiveSync)
  • Pretty much the standard for medium size and enterprise email/collaboration
  • Expensive 
  • Gaining popularity among small businesses and personal users as it becomes more affordable

…maybe, one day, I’ll turn this into a more complete matrix of features to allow for generic comparison.  But I will note that there is a different connotation, a different aura that doesn’t fit into a particular feature list about each of these.  For now, I will suggest that you should use Exchange since you are a blog reader of mine and are therefore technically-savvy, business-savvy, and/or someone who copies what I do since I know what I’m doing.

Update on 7/15/10: I don’t have much time to maintain or update old posts like this, but did want to add that Gmail (and Google Apps) support IMAP and also now support Exchange Active Sync capabilities for certain devices (like the iPhone, but not Outlook unless you have Google Apps Premier Edition). I should also add that I have switched over to Google’s email services at some point last year for a variety of reasons (but mainly for the TCO benefits and wanting to verify the hype). I’ve been pretty happy, but I might consider going back to Exchange one day since I still feel it is the best service. Having good choices is always nice — a little education and a positive attitude is what creates email success, not the technology.

11 Comments

  1. You have compared the features of an email server product to three protocols. Perhaps a better comparison could have been HTTP (Webmail) vs. POP vs. IMAP vs. Exchange’s email protocol. If this were the comparison made, though, the issue of client support would need to be addressed.

    Microsoft Exchange Server can be POP and/or IMAP and/or HTTP depending on its configuration. Perhaps a better comparison could have been Exchange vs. Sendmail vs. Postfix vs. Eudora (yep… they have a server product, too :) ). If this were the comparison made, though, the issue of cost would need to be addressed.

    As a protocol on it’s own, Exchange lacks support by most email clients. However, Exchange cannot be considered as a protocol on its own. As a server product, Exchange stands far above its competitors in terms of features.

    There are a couple of drawbacks of Exchange that might hold more weight with Small-to-Medium Business owners and users than any of the features…

    First, the cost of the product: currently $699 plus $67 per client (ref: http://www.microsoft.com/exchange/howtobuy/default.mspx#E3D). This, in itself, would eliminate Exchange as an option for many small businesses.

    Second, use of Microsoft Exchange Server nearly eliminates any choice of email client other than Microsoft Outlook. This, by itself, is important enough that I would not consider using the product for myself or recommending it to others.

    — Ghodmode

  2. Thanks for your comments.

    “You have compared the features of an email server product to three protocols.”

    In fact, this is a comparison of the options that people have when they go out in search of personal and/or business email.

    For the next two paragraphs, I decided to leave out details like these which I think can confuse the reader and won’t effect their decision.

    As for the drawbacks you outline, 1) yes, Exchange is the most expensive (but becoming more affordable) and 2) if someone doesn’t want Outlook (most people do), then Outlook Web Access (OWA) is more than sufficient to check, send, and receive email along with managing collaboration features like meetings, notes, tasks, public folders, etc.

    Note: I wrote this up as I have been helping a business user who was accustomed to a highly sophisticated Exchange and Blackberry set-up that was moving to a personal solution and having trouble figuring out how to accomplish his needs in an affordable manner.

  3. Good work, keep us posting, you are very good writer.

  4. You know what, for all of the hair splitters that chose to comment on the technical inaccuracies of the first post… this was actually a very good concise break down. I am not a technophobe but I can attest to the fact that sometimes when trying to get simple information on the internet a lot of techies sure spend a lot of time proving how smart and up-to-speed they are… Oh, for more of the “KISS” principle like the short blurb above!!

    Thanks Mr. Aggarwal

  5. This is a very easy to follow article. I like that it is short and informative. A chart of the features may be a bit faster to review in some cases, but what you have is done well. Thank you for your work.

  6. Terrific article! I like your website, and Please update it even more often.

  7. My company is using MS Exchange but I don’t have MS Outlook in my Laptop, and I don’t like to use OWA through web browser either. Fortunately, after searching, I found Davmail, an open source gateway which enable us to access OWA on any email clients. One thing I’m still not sure is the security, since Davmail is sitting between Exchange server and my email client. I hope you write about Davmail or similar program for access Exchange from non Outlook client.

  8. hi there! terrific article!
    i’m using exchane account on my iphone and i use the apple mail in my macboom at home.
    the emails i send or delete from my iphone doesn’t appear in my sent or trash folders in apple mail, why is that?
    thanks!
    m.

  9. I’m confused by your labeling of Exchange as the “most robust” of these. Do you mean average uptime and mean time between failures? Then, like the first poster, I’d have to agree that this is an apples/oranges comparison, where you’re comparing an implementation (Exchange) with abstract protocols (POP and IMAP). This comparison would only make sense if you’re comparing exchange against specific implementations of those protocols. From my experience, Exchange would suffer in such a comparison, as though it’s come a long way in the last few years and, indeed is quite usable now compared to earlier versions, I wouldn’t exactly call it “robust.”

  10. The last comment is pure nonsense.

  11. Though dated now in 2013, the info and some of the comments provided some good, succinct insight. Thanks.

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