E-mail is a relatively simple concept – but there lies beneath a web of complication unappreciated by the majority of users and, with the advent of super-resolution mobile ‘phone pictures, and consequently massive attachments there is a growing problem.
Almost all Internet mail providers will place some limit on the size of mailbox they provide and in many cases the user will often not appreciate how that space is used nor, more importantly, when it reaches (or even exceeds) it’s quota.
Unfortunately there are many factors which affect the storage of mail messages but these include not only the way the mail is read but also the way it is disposed of.
Many providers prefer that you use on-line access to your e-mail through your normal web browser. Providers such as Hotmail/Outlook, BT Internet, Gmail and many others will prefer you to use this method.
These systems will usually give you up-to-date information on the amount of space you are using within your allotted quota.
Unfortunately, web mail is often very limited in the facilities offered, particularly in the handling of attachments and this is a common reason why some users prefer a simpler but more efficient interface.
There are a multitude of mail client programs available, ranging from those included with the Operating System such as Outlook Express with Windows XP, Windows Mail with Vista and Windows 8/8.1, Windows Live Mail as a free download for Windows 7 and, of course, Mail for Mac OS X.
Third Party clients are also available such as Mozilla Thunderbird and Pegasus and many more. Almost without exception, all of these programs can handle mail accounts in at least a couple of different ways and it’s here that mailbox storage can very easily get out of hand.
POP (Post Office Protocol) access has been the primary mechanism for a long time. Here the computer asks the mail server for new available messages, downloads them to the computer and, optionally, removes the messages from the mail server. This maintains a manageable mailbox at the server and a very visible mailbox on the PC so things will rarely get out of hand.
However, with the huge growth of mobile devices this ideal scenario is less than perfect since the messages now deleted from the mail server will no longer be available to be collected by any mobile device. For this reason it becomes necessary to allow the mail server to retain the collected messages – and this is where the problem starts.
Without any management the mail server mailbox can just grow, and grow, and grow! It is essential that a regime is put in place to remove mail server messages based on age or computer deleted status to avoid this uncontrolled build-up.
One other annoyance of this approach is that once messages are deleted on the computer they are NOT automatically deleted on any mobile device – and deleting huge numbers of messages on a smart phone or tablet can be frustrating at the very least.
IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) is a more modern approach to mail retrieval and largely overcomes many of the short-comings of POP access. Although mail is still retained at the computer or mobile device, IMAP maintains synchronism with the mail server.
This means that when a message is deleted at the computer it is AUTOMATICALLY deleted at the mail server and, consequently, at any connected smart phone or tablet too. It should be noted that not all Internet Service Providers allow IMAP access to their mail servers so if you have any plans to change you should check with your mail provider first.
Many mail client programs have severe limitations regarding the size of mailbox space they make available. Most note-worthy are versions of Microsoft’s Outlook up to and including 2003 which have a total file limitation of only 2GB – and this includes not only all e-mail messages but contacts, appointments, notes and tasks as well.
With Outlook 2007 upwards that limitation was increased to 20GB but it can still impose a restriction for some.