You might have heard of IMAP protocol or exchange server or service that you can use with the Outlook and your email accounts. But what do these mean, what are the differences, and how do they work? This post discusses that.
Difference Between IMAP and Exchange
First things first, IMAP is an open source protocol for retrieving and synchronizing emails across clients and email servers. This means it helps getting emails from servers to local computers for you to access them. Exchange on the other hand is mainly a service consisting of servers and other benefits offered by Microsoft.
This brings us to the main difference that matters: IMAP doesn’t cost anything. Most email providers and most email clients these days offer IMAP based protocol. But Exchange on the other hand is a service/product that must be paid for if you want to use it its full set of features. Although, when you use a Hotmail or Outlook email account (which is free) and connect it to your Outlook client, it is connected through Exchange, but all the features of the Exchange server isn’t available to you until you have an Exchange account that needs to be paid for.
As you might have guessed, both are two completely different things technically. But for our practical purposes fitting the common home users (and not IT users), both have some similarities in the way you access your emails and the way data is handled within Outlook.
IMAP only syncs emails, while Exchange is for everything including contacts, tasks, and address book. For Mac users, via ActiveSync, they too can benefit from Exchange services, even though it is designed to work with Windows PC and mobile devices. Although, it is now also possible to synchronize contacts, calendars, tasks, notes, and other items in Outlook through IMAP, depending the email server supports such operations. Gmail is one example of that. If you are using a Gmail account with Outlook client, you can also synchronize other items than emails, but only if you are a Google Apps customer. This service is called G-Sync.
The Exchange by Microsoft uses its own proprietary mechanisms for synchronizing which is very similar to IMAP in the style. Its called MAPI, short for Message-API. It is very similar to Exchange ActiveSync, which is mainly developed for devices like Mac and other platforms.
Exchange is the clear choice if you are a business user and needs to work in a collaboration with other users. It offers much more flexibility and options than a simple IMAP alone will.
Exchange accounts also offers cached exchange mode, which is a way to work offline as well. This mode keeps the copies of your data in a cached files that lets you access them without an internet connection or whenever there is a slow connection. Anything you do in a cached mode gets synchronized with the servers once the connection is back.
One of the most beneficial features of Exchange is when it comes calendars. You can not only be on top of all the schedules of meetings, but can also track the availability of the rooms and be able to work with the calendar in a shared, collaborating manner with other users who have Outlook Exchange installed.
Exchange also allows server side rules to be created, while IMAP accounts in Outlook does not. With IMAP based account (like Gmail) when using with Outlook, you can create a rule but you can only do so locally. Even though, the action performed by the rule (such as moving an email to another folder) will also get synced with the servers but the rule itself acts out locally on your computer and not on the servers. Which means, once the new email is detected and downloaded, Outlook performs the “rule” that you have set only after.
One other important point to note that Exchange allows configuring your account to use POP and IMAP, if you need to do so. If you are an IT user, you can configure your Exchange account and that of the other users in your organization in multiple ways. That is one of the main benefit of Exchange that it offers a lot more control and flexibility in how you want the emails to be accessed, downloaded, and maintained by a user in an Outlook client.
The Exchange and IMAP
|Exchange is a server and a set of services associated with it||IMAP is an open source email protocol developed for clients and server communication|
|Exchange is only available through Microsoft provided emails like Outlook.com and Hotmail||IMAP is offered by most email providers today|
|Exchange offers cached exchange mode for offline mode||IMAP does not offer any such service|
|Exchange is used for syncing everything including mails, contacts, calendar, tasks, and notes||IMAP only syncs emails|
|Exchange is a licensed product||IMAP requires no licenses|
|Exchange is the most useful when it comes to collaboration with teams in your organization||IMAP can be set up to collaborate but is not that versatile in comparison to Exchange|
|Setup and maintenance for full use can be complicated and requires IT training||Setup and maintenance is mainly one-time task and requires minimal high-end knowledge|
|Constant updates by Microsoft, both for security and features||IMAP is comparatively simpler and thought, it does get updated, there is not much difference to how it operates|
They are both different ways to retrieve and access emails on Outlook, among other services. If you have an Exchange account and have collaboration needs, then there is no doubt which one should you use; Exchange is far superior to other similar services and offers a lot more flexibility and options. If you are basic home user and use services like Gmail, you will be much better with IMAP as it is free and offers enough functionality to cover your emailing needs.
Also note that if you are using email accounts like Hotmail or outlook.com with Outlook desktop client whether on Mac or Windows, you are automatically being connected via Exchange and the data is synced via MAPI protocol by Microsoft. However, without the active customer, the services and benefits of Exchange are limited.
We hope that above article has been helpful in clearing any confusion regarding the difference between IMAP and Exchange.