For years, many of us have accessed our email via an email client like Outlook, Thunderbird, Evolution, or Eudora. Whilst these programs are powerful, things get messy when you try & access mail from multiple devices. The proliferation of smartphones, notebooks, netbooks, tablets/ipads, & desktops makes it difficult to synchronize mail to all devices.
When a mail client communicates with the mail server, the way the mail is handled depends on the mail protocol being used. The two main alternatives are POP3 (Post Office Protocol) & IMAP (Instant Messaging Access Protocol).
POP3 works by reviewing the inbox on the mail server & downloading the new messages to your computer. IMAP downloads the headers of the new messages on the server, then retrieves the message you want to read when you click on it. When using POP3, your mail is stored on your PC. When using IMAP, the mail is stored on the mail server. Unless you copy a message to a “Local Folder” the messages are never copied to your PC. IMAP allows email to be manipulated by any device it is set up on, without the need to transfer files between devices. However, because IMAP is obtaining that information from the mail server every time you connect, it can be slower to respond.
Alternatively, by using a browser interface, you are viewing the mail directly on the server. Many webmail clients such as Gmail, Yahoo, Live, etc, offer many of the features of a dedicated mail client, with less overhead. You also have the advantage of being able to access your mail from any device that has an internet connection, no setup required.