The Different Types of Email and What's Best for your Small Business
Many business owners make the mistake of assuming email is a monolithic technology that is the same for all users and businesses alike. Nothing could be further from the truth. Electronic mail is more accurately described as a platform upon which various services can be provided to its users. Getting a message from one computer to another across the Internet is alternately a simple thing and a rather complex thing depending on your point of view. This, among other things, is the reason electronic mail has been described as the most important application on the Internet.
Here are some things you'll want to keep in mind when deciding on an e-mail system for your small business.
Number of Users
If you are running a very small enterprise that is unlikely to be communicating with anyone except the occasional vendor or client, then a simple single-user system hosted by a provider is probably more than enough for you. Many companies offer sophisticated electronic mail services with all the features you will need for occasional communications.
On the other hand, if your user count starts to climb, you will probably find either hosting your own service or accessing a locally controlled server with one or more protocols will be a better and more versatile option.
The companies that provide electronic mail as a service often also provide licensable or purchasable software that allows you to install and manage your own system on a local server. This is advisable if you are likely to have many dozens or hundreds of users and you have a system in place to manage, archive and track electronic mail inside your company.
The most popular of these options use the Exchange Server protocol and ship with customisable clients you can use to not only send and receive mail but also to compose templates, synchronize with calendar and map applications and also link to and from standard document types like PDFs, web pages and DOC formats.
Post Office Protocol
For those offices that use a hosted electronic mail server, the standard mechanism by which you can retrieve mail delivered to your server is called Post Office Protocol or POP. Post Office Protocol is simply a standard set of communications which electronic mail clients use to access messages stored on a remote server. Most client programs, including proprietary ones, use this protocol as a baseline mechanism for obtaining message information from a remote machine where the user has an account.
Post Office Protocol is not necessarily good or bad for any particular application. However it should be noted it is designed to do only one thing well, and that is to retrieve electronic messages from a remote machine. It can't do many of the things proprietary or more sophisticated electronic messaging systems can do.
The other most popular electronic mail protocol is called Internet Message Access Protocol or IMAP. The primary difference between POP and IMAP is where your messages end up. A POP client will download all your mail to the local machine and then erase it from the server where it was delivered. An IMAP system leaves your mail on the remote machine where you can access it with multiple devices like a computer and a phone at the same time.
IMAP is primarily useful in an environment where making use of more abundant server resources is the best way to process, store and analyze large scale electronic mail archives. IMAP also makes it possible to "synchronize" various devices using the same record of messages on your remote mail server, and it allows certain kinds of applications to make use of your electronic mail to offer other kinds of services like collaborative document editing, multi-user threading and context-aware search.
Exchange IMAP and Office365
One of the most popular proprietary email platforms is the Exchange server, which is a standard used by the Office365 software suite. Exchange has an IMAP option which allows the server to archive and synchronize messages for users on custom clients, standard clients or even mobile devices.
Exchange is often used by very large enterprises and can be quite expensive if a business isn't in need of super-powerful technology for basic email needs. That said, if your company is looking for versatility and power and has also standardized on compatible operating systems for your desktop and mobile devices, Exchange IMAP can be a very powerful and useful general-purpose solution for all kinds of electronic messaging.
One thing to keep in mind is electronic mail is supposed to make things easier for your company. If the system you choose turns out to be more work than it is worth, it is always better to make a switch earlier rather than later, as the sunk costs dilemma will gradually make things more and more difficult. With the right approach, however, the correct solution will undoubtedly help your enterprise achieve more over time.