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Google IMAP support will improve Thunderbird and iPhone access.

Gmail, Google's email service, is adopting the Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) version 4 at last.  Traditionally Google has used Post Office Protocol to access messages, which is currently in its 3rd iteration (POP3).

The move to IMAP4 brings about some key advantages.  One is that IMAP4 will automatically sync your account.  With POP3, you could check your emails in Thunderbird or on your notebook, however, if you logged into your account elsewhere, your messages would likely still be marked as unread.  This creates unnecessary inconvenience.

One of IMAP4's other advantages is the ability to perform server side searches, which saves the time and resources required to download messages and then perform the search on POP3 systems.  Also, before only one client (i.e. Thunderbird or your iPhone) could be connected to a mailbox at a time.  IMAP4 allows multiple clients to simultaneously connect.  IMAP4 also allows users the ability to edit mailbox information on the server and easily move messages between mailboxes on the server side.

These improvements may mostly fly under the radar, but they will likely be welcome improvements for power users, and may even provide a bit more convenience to standard users.

The improvements are not currently available to all Gmail users, but Google is working fast to expand the service to everyone. "Don't fret if you don't see 'IMAP Access' yet under the Settings menu. We're rolling it out to everyone over the next few days," said Google on its "About Gmail" page.

While Gmail is blazing the way into IMAP4, most ISP provided emails are still using POP3.

It should be interesting to see how Google's software and resources handle the increased load that IMAP4 places on the system. It would not be surprising to see a few hiccups over the next few months.

Still, the shift is definitely a move in the right direction and opens up exciting new possibilities for Gmail users.  The move caps up a series of exciting news coming from Google that includes the development of a mobile OS, laying a trans-Pacific cable for "the Unity Project", the Google $30 million USD moon challenge, and the launch of Google News.





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