01 April 2008

GMail's IMAP = lame

Lately I've been trying out this whole using a mail client thing. It started because I now have 2 GMail logins which Firefox can't keep straight (MakeUseOf uses GMail for domains) and because my school's mail client sucks. Like, really sucks. Like, it's a Java applet. I think it's Blackboard's fault. Anyway, I decided to try using a mail client for everything. It's certainly easier to clean up your inbox using a mail client. You don't have to aim for the checkbox, just hit the sender...or subject...or date...whatever. Just hit the message's line. Besides that, it's much easier to do GPG signatures using a mail client. I don't bother with them in GMail's web interface because it requires typing it separately, signing, and copying and pasting. Evolution and Thunderbird both just prompt me for my passphrase.

So, some of my friends have asked why I'm deleting the emails instead of archiving them. Many of them are publicly accessible mailing lists. I don't need to keep my own archive of it when it's on the internet. The other thing...well, GMail's up to 6GB of storage now. We had a speaker from the Federal Trade Commission come into our ethics class today to tell us about identity theft and security. 1GB of text is 100,000-200,000 pages of text, depending on the format in which it's stored. Or, 1GB = one dump truck of text. Wow. Do you want 6 dump trucks worth of your personal communications sitting on Google's servers? OK, I know a lot of us geeks around here use encryption for the truly personal stuff. Normal people don't. Sad but true.

Anyway, I've been using Evolution to sift through all my old emails and clean it up. As it turns out, Google has ruined IMAP. IMAP is supposed to sync your mail client and the mail server. Does GMail's IMAP? No. Instead, the "Inbox" label is removed from the message. The message stays in your GMail in the "All Mail" section. It's still on the server, and that's not cool. I have to go re-delete 1000 emails now!

By the way, the search thing on GMail's web interface kinda fails. They say you can do a logical not with a minus sign, but -in:inbox and label:inbox both fail to filter correctly. Some stuff doesn't show, but others stuff does, and I can't find any logical pattern to it.


Tony Yarusso said...

I've been struggling along with GMail for a few months now too. The other thing I found is that when you have a bunch of labels, it's unbearably slow, especially if you archive mail locally. The entire "labels" system is pretty crackpot-y if you ask me. Let me know if you find some solutions, as I'm still looking...

rodrigo said...

I use gnus (an emacs email client) and I can subscribe individually to each "label". For all that matters I'm only subscribed to the "INBOX". The imap support from Gmail is terrible, so I try to avoid using it for more than "INBOX" and a couple more tags. They *really* need to improve their IMAP support, it sucks.

Alex said...

My university mail was using some crappy web interface too (not Java), but I just had Gmail pull in the emails from it via POP.

Check Settings > Accounts; there should be an option to add another e-mail address. This will pull in messages to your inbox transparently, and also give you the option of sending e-mail from the university address. (technically "on behalf of" but nobody realizes)

Mackenzie said...

Yeah, I know, but I have a sort of separation regarding what goes to which...I guess labels could do it, but really, I'm just trying to do the mail client thing for a while. They really do have a better interface. I'm using IMAP though because my mom's house lacks wifi (yeah, I know, it's 2008) so when I go home I can't POP to my laptop.

Jonathan said...

perhaps try Thunderbird. It looks like it has an option built in to automatically move deleted messages to your Trash folder in Gmail (thus really deleting them). But I can understand your complaint definitely. I guess they do that because most clients don't have an "archive" button and most people who use gmail "don't have reason to delete things".

Mackenzie said...

Or they want you to use "archive" and don't want you to delete anything...they *are* data miners... We can only really hope that their storage is not for any nefarious purpose.

Anonymous said...

Explain again why you are switching to an email client rather than sticking with Gmail's web interface?

I have my main gmail account into which I have flowing (via POP) several other gmail accounts and several email addresses from my personal domain. I also have an old college email address forwarded there as well.

I have used IMAP with Thunderbird to download my mail from Google servers so that I could quickly sort and delete old large attachments but once I did that I went back to using the web interface.

Check out Lifehacker's tutorial on properly setting up Gmail's IMAP with Thunderbird: http://snipr.com/238jv

Anonymous said...

"perhaps try Thunderbird. It looks like it has an option built in to automatically move deleted messages to your Trash folder in Gmail (thus really deleting them)."

I tried this, and it does work. However, as soon as a mail goes into the Trash/Bin, it starts a 30 day countdown before the message gets deleted, even if it has other labels.

I got caught out by that for some non-important stuff (I have a few addresses redirected to Gmail, so I have a label per address, and a few labels for purposes like "you need to pay your credit card bill" emails). If you use the Thunderbird option to put deleted mail in the bin (and set your bin folder accordingly) then as soon as you delete a message from one folder (ie remove the label) it's still visible in the other folders, so you might think it's not been deleted from there. Then when the Trash cleanup runs after 30 days, it'll remove it from all folders.

If you strictly only have one label per message, whether it be INBOX or a folder specific one then this probably won't affect you. But if you sometimes tag things in multiple folders like I did, then be careful :)

Anonymous said...

Did you know the Gmail Notifier extension for Firefox supports multiple accounts? You mentioned having 2 GMail logins, so by using the extension you can have them automatically check for emails on both accounts and access each one at will.

I use it because I don't mind Gmail's web interface, and probably bother using what is obviously an insufficient IMAP solution.

Ross said...

For all those wanting to know "why not use the web mail?". It's because she's using two gmail accounts. Logging out and and back in to another account all the time sucks. I had the same problem. Now, I use Thunderbird and haven't had much trouble. I use gmail's filtering to organize my mail into folders, and as for deleting, the idea is to not delete anything. So they make it hard on purpose. When I want to delete something, sure I have to do it twice, but it only takes a couple of seconds to clear out both trash folders.
I've been using Thunderbird + Gmail for both my email accounts for the last three months between two machines and it's been great.

SEJeff said...

hate to sound rude, but you get what you pay for. Gmail is free AND gives you IMAP. Be thankful that they do that at all.

If you don't like it, host your own server. That is easy enough.

Anonymous said...

Hate to burst the bubble, but even after you "delete" it, the information still sits on google's servers.

Tom said...

The correct subject for the original post is "All IMAP = lame." (At least in my opinion. YMMV.)

You can set Thunderbird up to retrieve mail from multiple Gmail accounts via POP3 with separate account controls, inboxes and storage for each account, thus avoiding the complexities of IMAP. Should be able to do the same in Evolution or Kmail, as well. Gmail's POP3 settings also allow you to delete e-mail once your mail client has retrieved it.

IMAP is probably useful if you want the same folders in your client setup as your webmail setup, if you need to access the same e-mail accounts from multiple computers, or if you want to organize your e-mail on the server. I've never used webmail as a primary interface, although it's fine as a means of last resort; I've intentionally chosen not to do the either of the latter two for data-privacy and having-a-life reasons.

Anonymous said...

stop complaining...
wat other email provider give you free IMAP and POP... let alone one of them...
if u dont lk it then dont use it...

Jonathan said...

"hate to sound rude, but you get what you pay for. Gmail is free AND gives you IMAP. Be thankful that they do that at all."
"stop complaining...
wat other email provider give you free IMAP and POP... let alone one of them...
if u dont lk it then dont use it..."

These 2 comments are ridiculous. Just because something's free does not mean it shouldn't work or be full-featured. You have the right to critique any product who's performance it subpar for you.

And to answer the second question, I think every free email account I've ever had offers free POP and IMAP access...

@Mackenzie, I also hope that their storage doesn't become used for any bad purpose, but I also understand this as a risk for any public email. As someone pointed out, just because something is "deleted" doesn't meant it's actually been removed from the server. It would be nice if these aspects of the system were a little more transparent to users.

Anonymous said...

ross - I mentioned RIGHT ABOVE YOUR POST about an extension that allows easy access to both accounts in Firefox. How could you have missed that?

Anonymous said...

Ross, You can manage multiple email accounts (including other Gmail accounts) from within one Gmail account. This means you would only need to login once.

For instance, I only login to my primary Gmail account. It pulls in other secondary Gmail accounts via POP. Thus, I never need to log into them. I can even send email from those secondary Gmail accounts from within my primary Gmail account. Again, this means I never need to log into any other Gmail account or any other non-Gmail email account for that matter.

I use the colored label system and filters to identify certain types of emails (feedback, family, friends, college, employment, newletters, etc.). But the search is so powerful from within Gmail that the filter/label system is almost unnecessary.

Adam said...

I hate GMail's IMAP implementation... So much in fact that I gave up and am using the web client again.

If I could get the custom spam filter working correctly on my Dreamhost account, I'd ditch Gmail (again). (I'm using Google Apps)


Charlie Samo said...

Well, I was gonna give you a cool little fix, but then I realised that when I did the same thing for POP, it didn't work either :P Yeah..I guess Google likes you to take up their server space and leave yourself vulnerable to Identity Theft.

Josh said...

i recently started using Gmail's IMAP feature with Thunderbird...and I hate it. Basically what I want to do is have Gmail and Thunderbird mirror each other. I use Thunderbird for my school email using IMAP, and they mirror each other exactly. When I delete a message in Thunderbird, it gets moved to the Trash folder on the server. When I empty Trash in Thunderbird, it deletes all messages in the Trash folder on the server. Perfect. This is what I wanted Gmail to do. However, like you guys, I've realized that Gmail does not do this and wants to make it very difficult and annoying for me. Has anyone figured out a way to get Gmail and Thunderbird to truly mirror one another? If someone does please let me know. These damn lables and conversations and stuff staying in All Mail and all this other shit is so very annoying and confusing. I'm pretty close to switching to another domain other then Google. Are there any good, free email sites out there that do allow you to truly mirror your client with the server? If there is, I'd like to know so I can check them out and hopefully get rid of this Gmail bullshit.

Adam said...


There's not really a good way to use IMAP with Gmail. It's nice that they offer it, but their implementation, as you've seen, sucks.

I'm using it with Mail.app on my iMac right now, and that's only because I have domain e-mail from my own server in there and it's more convenient to have all of my e-mail in one spot.

As to other free e-mail services...the only other one that offers IMAP, that I know of, is AOL. But who wants to use AOL?


Josh said...

guys, i figured out how to get gmail to act as a traditional imap, to where gmail mirrors what you do in thunderbird (or any other client). i'll try to explain how i have everything set up:
download the "Forwarding and POP/IMAP" lab for gmail. set your settings like so: IMAP Access: Enable IMAP.
Auto-Expunge: Do not automatically expunge messages.
When a message is expunged from the last visible IMAP folder:
Move the message to the Trash.

Save changes.

I use thunderbird, and i'll list how i have that set up as well:

Server settings:
check for new messages at startup: yes.
check for new messages every: 1 minutes.
When I delete a message: Move it to the trash folder.
Clean up ("Expunge") Inbox on Exit: No.
Empty Trash on Exit: No.

Copies & Folders:

When sending messages, automatically:

Place a copy in: Other: Sent mail on xxx@gmail.com.

everything else not checked.

Drafts & Templates:

Keep message drafts in:

Other: Drafts on xxx@gmail.com

Keep message templates in:

"Templates" folder on xxx@gmail.com.

everything else unchecked.

Junk Settings:

Enable adaptive...Checked.
Do not mark...Checked.

Trust junk mail headers...Not Checked.

Move junk messages to: Checked, Other: Spam on xxx@gmail.com

Hope this works for the rest of you guys. If it doesn't, sorry; I was doing a lot of different tweaking and I'm not 100% sure what made it work, but it does, so I'm trying to share it. Best of luck.