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Bye Bye POP3, Hello IMAP!
Bye Bye POP3, Hello IMAP!

Trying to find the right wireless e-mail service is confusing. With so many options and features, how do you make the right choice? Messaging, broadly defined, includes SMS, instant messaging, paging, e-mail, voice mail, and faxes. They are essentially communications between people on many different mediums.

E-mail is the undisputed "king" of Internet applications. For most computer users, checking e-mail has become a daily routine. With the advent of wireless technology, checking e-mail while away from your computer is rapidly becoming a reality. Millions today use wireless e-mail; it will be one of the most widely used applications for the wireless Internet. However, there are many different wireless e-mail offerings on the market with varied levels of capability. Here's an overview of the basic classes of e-mail service.

Standards for E-Mail
E-mail revolves around two major standards: POP3 and IMAP. Although POP3 is the most widely used protocol today, it has some limitations. IMAP was designed and introduced as a superset of POP3, and enhances both message retrieval and management. In addition to the two standards, Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange implement their own protocols to communicate between client applications and their proprietary servers.

Wireless POP3 Mail
There are many free solutions for wireless POP3 e-mail. Most major e-mail portals allow you to read POP3 mail from another server, and many have wireless access through phones and PDAs. You have to put up with annoying advertising, potential solicitation to you and your correspondents, and lots of junk mail. Most ISPs offer POP3 e-mail, so any open portal like Yahoo!, Excite, Hotmail, or NotWired can provide you with POP3 e-mail access with a WAP phone or PDA (e.g., a Palm or PocketPC).

Accessing wireless e-mail with your WAP phone can get expensive, especially when you're paying for air time. Alternatively, there are e-mail clients on more advanced devices, such as Palm and PocketPC, that can read POP3 directly. Device limitations constrain the size of e-mail that can be read and stored on the device, but these applications allow you to work on e-mail even when disconnected from the Internet.

Using POP3 has an inherent limitation. E-mail that's "popped" off the mail server resides in a client machine/device, so people who read e-mail from work and home can have e-mail in two places. Therefore, most people configure secondary readers such as a wireless device or HTML e-mail access to leave e-mail on the POP3 server. Then when they get to their primary workstation, e-mail can be fetched from the e-mail server, and managed locally with e-mail software such as Outlook, Eudora, Notes, Netscape Mail, or others. Once e-mail is fetched from the e-mail server, it's no longer accessible from wireless devices without some creative solutions.

Wireless E-Mail with Desktop Components
Some interesting solutions arose to access e-mail on a workstation from a wireless device. One is that you can install a software component on your desktop that will periodically read your e-mail and then forward the new e-mail to your wireless device. Any actions on your device will also forward changes to be updated on your desktop. This solution works great as long as your desktop is not a laptop that travels with you, which is the case with most mobile professionals.

Corporate Wireless E-Mail
Point solutions using desktop components made their way into the corporate environment. Organizations consider enterprise solutions that allow users with laptops to manage e-mail even when their laptops are "in the bag." Solutions are installed onto corporate servers and allow external users to access e-mail with a wireless device. RIM and Motorola are well-known brands for this marketplace. This solution works well for corporate clients, but not for the majority of users accessing e-mail through an ISP.

Wireless IMAP E-Mail
What if you could store all your e-mail in one place and manage it with multiple devices, through the Internet, using native desktop applications such as Outlook or Netscape and/or using a simple WAP phone or a PDA? No more synchronization or software to install!

Enter NotWired's IMAP e-mail service. Introduced in beta in August, NotWired is a large-scale public IMAP server with added value applications called groupware. It allows you to centralize all POP3 and IMAP e-mail into one location and utilize standard IMAP e-mail readers to manage your e-mail. If you delete something on your wireless device, it will be removed from your laptop after invoking a quick update command that all IMAP mail client software applications provide. Therefore, the same e-mail you deleted or moved on your cell phone will be synchronized automatically on your laptop. Powerful group features such as scheduling, calendars, and task and contact management enable you to handle all your contact communications.

IMAP e-mail overcomes the basic limitations inherent with POP3 e-mail, and provides a standard means for all compliant e-mail software programs. Since all e-mail is stored initially on the server, it will free you from keeping multiple e-mail on different machines. Various services will allow you to manage e-mail anytime, anywhere, with all the advantages of desktop software and all the mobility of cell phones and PDAs. The best of both worlds!

About Kevin Clark
Kevin Clark is president and CEO of NotWired, Inc.

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