Monday, September 12, 2005

Outlook sucks at IMAP

I've been running my primary desktop on Debian for years, but recently I switched back to Windows for a while to gain daily access to a couple of things that only work there. One such only works in Outlook, so I switched mail clients too.

Outlook claims to support IMAP, but it really sucks. I assume it is the IMAP support - if Outlook does these things when running against Exchange I can't see how anyone uses it. Here are some of the ways it sucks:

  1. On initial connection, refreshing the mailboxes and sync'ing the message lists takes a long time. Sometimes 3 or 4 minutes for my email on my mail server (Courier) on my laptop. There is a status dialog, but that is frequently hung.While it is sync'ing there is no response from any interactions - heck, you can't even move the windows on your desktop. The whole thing has the symptom of a single-threaded app trying to do too many things in that thread.
  2. Rules. When you open your mail client, it runs your rules against the new messages in Inbox, which for me farm some of the messages off to other folders. In Outlook this doesn't always work for IMAP accounts where the move-to folders are also in IMAP (I haven't tested other cases like local folders). The best way I can figure to explain what is happening is that the mail filtering runs when opening the Inbox, but at this time IMAP hasn't necessarily loaded the complete folder list or sync'd the other folders. Move-to rules show the symptom of failing because the mailbox is invalid, even though the mailboxes exist. You then have to go into the Rules dialog, re-enable the rule (since failing disabled it), and RunRulesNow (across your whole Inbox). This sucks.
  3. Spam filtering is desperately primitive. I'm trying an add-on spam filter SpamBayes now, which seems sorta ok but nowhere near as friendly as the native filtering in Thunderbird.
  4. Every now and then Outlook goes into a Committing local cache mode in which it just sits for a couple of minutes. Other clients don't do this at all.
  5. It is very very slow at negotiating secure SSL connections, compared to other clients I've used.
  6. No doubt there is more I've forgotten. For example, I note that I used to use Outlook for two IMAP account (work and personal) and I gave that up as a bad plan. I can't remember why.

With all these negatives, it would seem reasaonable to wonder where the 'love' is in my relationship with Outlook. I'm wondering that too.

I think the reality is actually a love/hate relationship with those who on occasion drive me to Outlook to gain access to some new app or service. Or perhaps just 'hate'.

As for Outlook itself, well, one wonders whether its support for IMAP is deliberately bad. Meets checkbox requirements, but drives folks to Exchange. I'm frequently told I have to learn to control my cynicism. :)

[Comments left on my previous blog]

1. Alan left...
Monday, 12 September 2005 11:37 am ::

I remember the Outlook IMAP support not to be great even around deleting a message. It would put a big line through it, and you then had to do a separate operation to "Expunge" the messages. Very clunky and the only email client i see do this. I can only imagine this was deliberate.

2. Cedric left...
Monday, 12 September 2005 8:56 pm ::

Remember to expunge your deleted emails regularly, I found that they contribute greatly to IMAP degradation in Outlook. Besides, why keep any emails when you have GMail? :-)

As for your love/hate relationship, I totally share it.

-- Cedric

3. Dmitri Colebatch left...
Tuesday, 13 September 2005 12:02 am ::

Here here - outlook is the best mail client I've ever used when it comes to user interface, but unfortunately its IMAP support is absolute crap. I'm about to switch all my mail to gmail (I've been using it for lists for ages) as I'm fairly happy with that interface and I'm running out of space on my mail server (o:

4. glen martin left...
Wednesday, 14 September 2005 10:37 am

Yeah, Outlook displays deleted emails by default, but there is an option to hide them. Of course the option is pretty obscure, located in View->ArrangeBy->CurrentView (I don't usually think of a display filter as an instance of ArrangeBy).

Another way Outlook sucks at IMAP is be treating it as a second or third class citizen. For example, there's an option to "Save responses in same mailbox as original email, except for Inbox". But this option doesn't apply to the IMAP Inbox. Additionally, sent messages aren't saved to IMAP Sent, but to local Sent.

It all just adds up to this tedious experience for anyone who has the audacity to try to use standard protocols with this application.

So far as having the best user interface ... well, there are indeed things I like about the interface. But there are some real clunks too.

For example, it marks a message read when you leave, not when you open. When I delete a message, the next message is opened automatically. I can't mark it unread while the message itself is open because it is only market read when I leave. If I don't want to read it now, I have to click on some other nearby message, then right-click on the one I want to mark unread and choose that option. Hopefully I have another nearby message I've already read or don't mind reading right now.

5. David left...
Monday, 10 October 2005 4:12 pm

I too am stuck with Outlook because I require its contacts/tasks/calendar/notes/Palm sync capabilities. To be fair, it does these things extremely well, but it's IMAP support is just horrible. If I used a separate mail client it wouldn't be integrated with the contacts and everything else, so at least for now I'll have to live with Outlook.

6. David left...
Tuesday, 19 September 2006 8:51 pm

The reason Outlook deletes imap messages the way it does is because there is not an imap folder with the delete function. So outlook creates is own method of a two-step deletion process (mark for deletion and commit to deletion). Outlook's biggest imap failure IMO is #2 in this post (rules support)

7. Arizona Web Design left...
Tuesday, 28 October 2008 1:04 am ::

Well i was googling for possible Outlook imap fixes and googled "outlook imap sucks" and got to this blog post and I saw it was written in 2005. Rest assured, 2008 now and I have Outlook 2007 installed and it sucks at imap! I wish thunderbird was better :( or there was a better solution. Does entourage have this problems? Maybe i should use get a mac...

8. Andre de Cavaignac left...
Sunday, 9 November 2008 8:27 pm ::


After working with the IMAP protocol, I can totally understand why though... Its not pretty, and implementing a client well means a lot of work on the client end.

And by the way, Outlook is a single threaded application, for the most part... Back in the old days, it was built that way and not much has changed because they don't want to break addins. Access to the mailbox all must be done on the UI thread... Oops!

9. Randy Schumaker left...
Tuesday, 4 May 2010 8:40 am

It looks like IMAP support may be getting better in Outlook 2010. 0.aspx

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