Microsoft promises better IMAP support in Outlook 2013

Previous versions of Microsoft's Outlook email client have not pleased users who have been waiting for more support for the Internet Message Access Protocol, better known as IMAP. Indeed, the recently launched email web service Outlook.com does not support IMAP.

For the stand alone Outlook 2013 client, Microsoft says it wants to make a better effort to support IMAP. In a new post on the official Outlook blog, Microsoft says that new email notifications using IMAP will be supported, along with being able to recognize special folders.

Outlook 2013 users will no longer have to wait for sync to be completed in order to start using the client due to the new background syncing and sending of email messages. The blog states, "General comments about Outlook's performance when using IMAP was the top issue we heard from all of you, and we believe this change will improve the experience quite a bit."

The new version of Outlook will let users sync any IMAP-based emails that are newer than three, six or 12 months via a new setting. Microsoft says, "If you're working in a situation where bandwidth is expensive or otherwise constrained, we recommend using the above new setting to limit the amount of mail you sync to provide the best experience."

Not all of the IMAP requests from users will be put into Outlook 2013. Microsoft says the Download Headers Only feature for IMAP users won't be in the new version; "We believe the best experience in Outlook is when you have the entire mail downloaded, and that folks who use Download Headers Only would benefit from our new sync offline setting above."

Categories also won't be a part of the IMAP support for Outlook 2013 because the protocol itself won't allow for such a feature. Microsoft states, "As a result, we weren't able to engineer a feature that ensures that categories (including the color and name of the category) you assign on one computer are stored on the server and available on all your other computers, or even available on your same computer if you have to recreate your Outlook profile."

Source: Outlook blog | Image via Microsoft

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18 Comments

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As an Exchange admin I'm constantly told by colleagues that the server side of IMAP in Exchange is absolutely awful. I wish they'd take a look at that instead. It's better, in terms of performance and reliability, in 2010 than it ever was in 2003/2007.

I could care less about the client to be honest. I'm sure there are better IMAP clients than Outlook which, let's be honest, is really only at home when connected to Exchange.

nothin2seehere said,
As an Exchange admin I'm constantly told by colleagues that the server side of IMAP in Exchange is absolutely awful. I wish they'd take a look at that instead. It's better, in terms of performance and reliability, in 2010 than it ever was in 2003/2007.

I could care less about the client to be honest. I'm sure there are better IMAP clients than Outlook which, let's be honest, is really only at home when connected to Exchange.

As an Exchange Admin you should NOT BE ALLOWING or USING IMAP. There is a reason Exchange has its own protocol for Server Side 'Live' email access. (Even at home, users should be using the Exchange protocol.)

Most clients today can use POP3 like IMAP, and even this should be used in rare circumstances.

Additionally, with Exchange's Web Interface for non-Outlook users and non-EAS users, there is little reason to allow the older protocols. It has one of the most robust and full featured Web interfaces ever made for email that is close to Outlook, and rivals Microsoft's own Windows Live Mail in functionality yet inside any browser.

thenetavenger said,

As an Exchange Admin you should NOT BE ALLOWING or USING IMAP. There is a reason Exchange has its own protocol for Server Side 'Live' email access. (Even at home, users should be using the Exchange protocol.)

Most clients today can use POP3 like IMAP, and even this should be used in rare circumstances.

Additionally, with Exchange's Web Interface for non-Outlook users and non-EAS users, there is little reason to allow the older protocols. It has one of the most robust and full featured Web interfaces ever made for email that is close to Outlook, and rivals Microsoft's own Windows Live Mail in functionality yet inside any browser.

IMAP4 is a favorite for college and non-profit mail systems for cost reasons; it's also the default for GMail/GoogleMail (though POP3 is a no-cost option for GMail/Google Mail, and has been since it was in beta). I only moved to IMAP4 since Outlook 2010, and *that* was automatically configured by Outlook itself; I told it exactly nothing as far as settings went. What makes my lack of issues all the more surprising is that I changed bitness with Office 2010; I moved from x32 to x64, and things actually got *easier* - not harder. With Office 2013, things got easier still, as I no longer need add-ins - not even for Hotmail/Outlook.com.

If folks are having issues with IMAP4 support with Outlook 2010/2013 (and that includes Outlook 2011 for OS X), I suspect nonstandard settings *somewhere*, as I've not had any issues with IMAP4 support since Outlook added it.

thenetavenger said,

As an Exchange Admin you should NOT BE ALLOWING or USING IMAP.


Well, that would lead to me getting my P45 pretty quickly. No, we need to provide IMAP access here, as PGHammer says, it's a favourite in educational places / universities (which is where I happen to work) and it's used by a fair few thousand staff.

If I had my way, yes, I'd get shot of it pretty quick. OWA is really awesome, but some people just get stuck in the mud and really want to use IMAP

I've actually tried it in the 2013 preview and I think this time around they have it pretty good. I'm a long-time Outlook user and I've always been frustrated by the dated IMAP implementation.

I recently switched to IMAP email using Outlook and should have just opted to shoot myself in the face.

Worst decision I have ever made as it takes me three times longer to take care of daily mail than it used to.

Currently I am trying to find a client that handles it much better. Any suggestions?

Ryan Hoffman said,
Every Outlook release they brag about upgraded IMAP support. Here's one quick example for 2010: http://blogs.office.com/b/micr...r-imap-in-outlook-2010.aspx

Meanwhile, everyone I know who uses IMAP in Outlook tells me it's absolutely the worst experience ever. Constant freezing and slowness. Can't wait to hear about the same problems with this version.

Somnus said,
I recently switched to IMAP email using Outlook and should have just opted to shoot myself in the face.

Worst decision I have ever made as it takes me three times longer to take care of daily mail than it used to.

Currently I am trying to find a client that handles it much better. Any suggestions?

But the issue is how well the server youi are requesting the info from must be able to handle pollign the request fast enough to prevent the slowness. Its not that Outlook is slow. I have an Exchange server and I use Outlook 2010 at work and I have no lag. Yet my office use Lotus Notes and it also uses IMAP and it is slow and the server is here onsite.

I am not saying the client is perfect. WhaT I am saying is you have to realize that IMAP is a dual problem where the server and client are a problem. The iMAP protocol is horrible no matter which client I have ever used and I've used a lot of them. Outlook/Exchange, Lotus Notes/Domino and others.

Somnus said,
I recently switched to IMAP email using Outlook and should have just opted to shoot myself in the face.

Worst decision I have ever made as it takes me three times longer to take care of daily mail than it used to.

Currently I am trying to find a client that handles it much better. Any suggestions?

The trick is to use POP3. With Outlook, it can mimic the functionality that other email clients provide only with IMAP. In Advance/More settings for the POP3 account, you can specify to treat messages to be delete and retrieved on the server as IMAP normally handles them. Far more efficient than IMAP and all the nice server side management of email.

There is a reason that IMAP was a poor replacement/addition to POP3 and why there needs to be a better email client standard adopted based off a more advanced protocol like Exchange Active Sync.

When people in 1997 with Exchange Servers had access to live realtime email that used less bandwidth than POP3 or IMAP, and 15 years later nothing has come along to offer a comparable solution, there is a problem with the progression of email protocol standards.

thenetavenger said,

The trick is to use POP3. With Outlook, it can mimic the functionality that other email clients provide only with IMAP. In Advance/More settings for the POP3 account, you can specify to treat messages to be delete and retrieved on the server as IMAP normally handles them. Far more efficient than IMAP and all the nice server side management of email.

There is a reason that IMAP was a poor replacement/addition to POP3 and why there needs to be a better email client standard adopted based off a more advanced protocol like Exchange Active Sync.

When people in 1997 with Exchange Servers had access to live realtime email that used less bandwidth than POP3 or IMAP, and 15 years later nothing has come along to offer a comparable solution, there is a problem with the progression of email protocol standards.


Wrong. POP3 is an ancient protocol and IMAP is far better. POP3 can't "mimic" IMAP even with the "leave messages on server" option (which is flaky), because there are plenty of other IMAP features that POP3 can't do, such as folders, etc.

Ryan Hoffman said,
Every Outlook release they brag about upgraded IMAP support. Here's one quick example for 2010: http://blogs.office.com/b/micr...r-imap-in-outlook-2010.aspx

I've had NO issues with IMAP4 support in Outlook since it was added (specifically with Outlook 2010 and GMail) - in fact, GMail has since then used IMAP4 as its default with Outlook. Outlook is, in fact, the ONLY IMAP4 client that has NEVER had issues with GMail - ever. (Thunderbird - which is the preferred IMAP4 client on college campuses - primarily because its free - can't claim that, and especially not with GMail, because GMail/GoogleMail uses non-standard IMAP4 ports and settings. So, is it an issue with Outlook, or is it an issue with IMAP4 settings?)

And here's the weird part; I have never - as in ever - had to tell Outlook 2010/13 what IMAP4 settings to use with GMail, as it autoconfigured itself; in fact, starting with Outlook 2010, autoconfiguration - for both POP3 and IMAP4 - is the default.

It's why Outlook is the ONLY IMAP4 client I will use.
Meanwhile, everyone I know who uses IMAP in Outlook tells me it's absolutely the worst experience ever. Constant freezing and slowness. Can't wait to hear about the same problems with this version.

~Johnny said,
They're reluctant to do so because they find it inferior to their current solution.

What is their current solution? haven't looked into it too much but i do like the service, i thought they old had pop3?

POP3 = old, doesn't sync
IMAP = better, syncs email

or have i missed the point?

Uplift said,

What is their current solution? haven't looked into it too much but i do like the service, i thought they old had pop3?

POP3 = old, doesn't sync
IMAP = better, syncs email

or have i missed the point?

They offer Exchange Activesync which can be used on phones like Android and iPhone etc.. however it can't be used on laptops and desktops so Mac users and people wanting to use alternative clients on Windows are stuck with pop3 unfortunately.

hobsgrg said,

They offer Exchange Activesync which can be used on phones like Android and iPhone etc.. however it can't be used on laptops and desktops so Mac users and people wanting to use alternative clients on Windows are stuck with pop3 unfortunately.

Ya, you are confusing ActiveSync with the Exchange Email Protocol called EAS (Exchange Active Sync).

The EAS works on desktop client software, as it is how Exchange has communicated with Email clients since the 1990s.

In regard to the differences, it is realtime, more secure, and has many more features than IMAP.

thenetavenger said,

Ya, you are confusing ActiveSync with the Exchange Email Protocol called EAS (Exchange Active Sync).

The EAS works on desktop client software, as it is how Exchange has communicated with Email clients since the 1990s.

In regard to the differences, it is realtime, more secure, and has many more features than IMAP.

No, it is YOU that is confusing it. Outlook.com (Hotmail) supports Exchange ActiveSync. Exchange ActiveSync is NOT Exchange, which has been supported by a small number of desktop clients (notably Outlook). Exchange ActiveSync is NOT supported by any desktop clients prior to the incoming Outlook 2013.

Exchange ActiveSync was formerly called ActiveSync - they are one and the same thing.

thenetavenger said,

Ya, you are confusing ActiveSync with the Exchange Email Protocol called EAS (Exchange Active Sync).

The EAS works on desktop client software, as it is how Exchange has communicated with Email clients since the 1990s.

Sorry, I have to correct this.

EAS is the Exchange ActiveSync protocol and it is not what desktop clients have been using for years. It is primarily used by mobile devices, but there are some new desktop clients like the Mail app in Windows 8 RT / 8 that does use EAS. Microsoft licenses the ability to use the EAS protocol to 3rd parties such as but not limited to HTC, Samsung, Motorola, Apple, etc... so they can write their own ActiveSync clients into their devices to be used by end users. Google also licenses the EAS protocol for the GMail service so you can access GMail via EAS if you want to.

You're probably thinking of MAPI, Messaging Application Programming Interface, which is what clients like Outlook have used forever either over RPC/TCP and now HTTP/TCP with the RPC commands tunneled within HTTP packets.

Older clients like Entourage 2008 used the older WebDAV protocol in Exchange 2003/2007 until the EWS (Exchange Web Services) update was released for Entourage so it could use EWS in Exchange 2007 and newer. EWS is also used by clients such as Outlook for Mac 2011 and is often used in customer scripts/programs as an interface to the mailbox data.