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I've decided that we desperatly need to switch from POP3 to IMAP when handling our main business email account which several people use. This is your typical info@example.com account which receives pretty much everything from customers, suppliers, business partners, etc. The email is provided by our hosting and they use qmail. Any server-side configuration that we are allowed to do is through the Horde web mail interface. Our local email client is Outlook Express.

One of the major problems that we've had is that we can't see if an email has been answered, deleted (spam), etc by someone else. Another problem is that each of the four client setups is using its own email folder structure, so it's always a pain to work on some else's PC.

So my questions are:

  1. How do I setup IMAP (client and server) so that every client using the same email account has the same folder structure.
  2. Our server mail setup doesn't support email rules ("if sender is foo, move email to Important"), so there is no way to centrally and automatically send emails to certain folders. Is there a way to solve this? We are using Outlook Express on Win XP PCs, but I rather not create the rules on each client as this is cumbersome to maintain.

Addendum: Should we migrate from Outlook Express to another client that isn't tied to Windows (we're currently using Win XP on all PCs)? I mean, Outlook Express has been replaced by other software in newer versions of Windows so using, say, Thunderbird might be safer?

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2 Answers 2

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How do I setup IMAP (client and server) so that every client using the same email account has the same folder structure.

If all clients are accessing the same account then their folder structure will always be the same. This is because all folders are stored server side, so there is only ever one master copy.

Saying that, you can affect the "view" of that folder structure by what is called subscriptions. Which is a record of which folders a client wishes to see. However most subscriptions are also stored server-side. So if all clients are connecting to the same account then their subscriptions should all remain the same.

These is an IMAP alternative to this called shared folders. Which allows clients with different accounts to share a folder from another location. But if you're not providing the IMAP server yourself then it may not be available. So we'll go no further with that.

Our server mail setup doesn't support email rules ("if sender is foo, move email to Important"), so there is no way to centrally and automatically send emails to certain folders. Is there a way to solve this? We are using Outlook Express on Win XP PCs, but I rather not create the rules on each client as this is cumbersome to maintain.

Without the use of server-side filters there isn't much you can do about this.

Should we migrate from Outlook Express to another client that isn't tied to Windows (we're currently using Win XP on all PCs)? I mean, Outlook Express has been replaced by other software in newer versions of Windows so using, say, Thunderbird might be safer?

Outlook has never been a great IMAP player. OE's implementation of the IMAP spec has always been OK. Certainly it performed better than straight Outlook for a very long time. Outlook 2007 was the first straight Outlook to really work, having finally added support for server-side Sent Items. But there are still a heap of things missing. Such as the ability to use other server-side builtin folders and define delete actions.

Thunderbird does however perform very well. The biggest blocker for it's uptake (IMHO) is it's unfamiliarity to Outlook users and lack of corporate image. If you're able to make the change though, as in your users won't mind, then absolutely do so.

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Assuming your provider grants IMAP access right now, you can simply set up an IMAP client with the same credentials as you do now. When you create folders you should find them available on all clients. If they don't show up there may be a folder subscription tool you need to use in your mail client.

As for automating rules I suggest only one client have the rules. All clients should see the results.

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This assumes that the client with the rules on is always available when the other clients are in use, for the rules to be effective. –  Sam Aug 3 '09 at 10:09
    
Does this mean that any client can add/remove folders? This strikes me as a bit unsecure; ideally, one should be able to create/delete folders and the others should be able to read folders/email. I like your idea of one client applying the email rules, but what would happened if, say, that computer is rebooting and another client does a sync to fetch new emails? –  CityNeonRain Aug 3 '09 at 11:29
    
It's not a perfect suggestion, but while IMAP supports multiple subscriptions I'm not sure the features you are looking for are available in the usual IMAP servers. If the client with the rules reboots, then the emails will stay in the inbox unless manually moved. –  Kyle Hodgson Aug 3 '09 at 16:48

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