Why is Gmail’s POP Support So Broken?

I’ve written here in the past about Gmail’s non-support of the IMAP mail protocol, but I’m on a different mission today. Having recently set a truckload of my email to forward to Gmail, much of which I later download via POP to create a second local copy, I’m irritated at Gmail’s POP support.

Some examples:

  • I can’t have my email client tell Gmail to give me read and unread mail from the inbox. Gmail ignores the request.
  • Gmail has a bizarro feature that tells it to only do POP downloads of mail after now. While I thought “now” was whatever time you set the now feature, it’s actually seemingly a sliding window, where “now” is whatever time you last logged into Gmail. Huh? Am I missing something?
  • If you don’t use the sliding now POP download, you’re forced to do an “All” messages download, which is completely nuts if you intermittently access Gmail via a Treo (or equivalent), as I do. There’s no way I’m downloading 1,000 messages over the cellular network.
  • I can’t set a mail client to delete mail from server when downloaded. Gmail does whatever you set it to at the server, neatly ignoring whatever it’s told by POP mail clients.

While I like Gmail enough that I’ve put up with this stuff, the poor POP support is really bugging me. I would happily hear I’m misunderstanding something, but otherwise I’m convinced there is more of the usual Google Knows Best behavior.


  1. One Way Stox says:

    which is your favorite email? Yahoo, gmail, hotmail, or another?

  2. gmail sucks. google’s strength is off the back of their core search function, which beats the pants of f yahoo and msft. yahoo mail’s new beta is going to clobber gmail due to functionality; the question for investors is “does content trump the ability to access it via search?” or maybe it’s a moot point – they are different businesses. google doesn’t do content well, but they have got search down cold, so far. yahoo (per their RSS-news and yahoo finance) has got more of my “content mindshare” than any other web portal out there.

  3. Michael Robinson says:

    Are you using a different Gmail service than I am? Because the Gmail I’m using still says “beta” at the top, and requires an invitation to join the service.
    Personally, I just use it as a mail forwarder.

  4. Hey Michael — Your comment gives me a chance to say something about Gmail’s supposed beta status. Sure, it is says beta up top, but do you really think that beta from Google means anything anymore? Because I don’t. Google has turned beta in a meaningless notion, where they just launch and hang onto the status endless, seemingly for a free pass from people.
    Anyway, there is a perfectly acceptable standard in place, POP, and Google, unlike Yahoo and pretty much every other POP supporter on the planet, decided to do POP its own way. I don’t buy that Google’s lack of support for core commodity POP functionality has diddly to do with beta status. It doesn’t. It has to do with control and Google Knows Best.

  5. One Way Stox — I don’t have a favorite anymore. I don’t mind Yahoo mail’s new graphical beta, but it has some bad bugs for me. Hotmail drives me nuts. So that leaves me with Gmail.

  6. Michael Robinson says:

    Paul: “Sure, it is says beta up top, but do you really think that beta from Google means anything anymore? Because I don’t. Google has turned beta in a meaningless notion, where they just launch and hang onto the status endless, seemingly for a free pass from people.”
    You have a point, but I don’t think it’s the point you think you have. Google hasn’t turned “beta” into meaningless notion. Google has merely given their high-profile corporate imprimatur to an understanding of “beta” that has already become entrenched in the open source community. For illustration, look through the package database of any typical desktop linux installation, and note how many of the core packages are “0.x” versions.
    It’s a change in the power dynamics that open source represents; in open source, the power over versioning is retained by the author(s), rather than being given over to the demands of the marketplace (or, more to the point, the marketing department). The versioning of open source software reflects the organization of the authors’ development process and the personal level of their confidence and commitment. The user can take it or leave it.
    When Google says “beta”, they’re saying “take it or leave it”. And you’re right to recognize this represents a shift from the way things are traditionally done by commercial software enterprises. And you’re also right to feel that, compared to tradition, Google’s use of “beta” status is relatively “in your face”.
    But deal with it. They’re giving you 2+Gb of universally accessible network-attached storage free for life. They didn’t actively solicit your use of the service. If you turned it into the somewhat-cumbersome central hub of your digital life, that’s explicitly not their problem. It’s beta. Take it or leave it.
    (Me, I pay ten bucks a month for a virtual host, and run whatever mail software I feel like on it.)
    That said, it’s not like they’re out to persecute you. Right here, it says: “Gmail doesn’t currently support IMAP access. As part of our ongoing commitment to give our users easy access to their email, we have introduced POP access. We look forward to announcing other new features as they become available.”

  7. Rickard Ã…berg says:

    I agree that gmail offers more than you can expect. I also think that they will change the POP-method in the future, because I also find it pointless in the condition it is right now. I want to be able to pop mail both from work and later att home, but that won’t be done.
    Another thing that bugs me is the “Sender-tag” that is added to the email-header. If you use a diffrent from-address, Outlook will present the confucing “Sent from … on behalf of …” in the from field which seem to confuse people. This should not be because of anti-spam reasons, because you have already confirmed you from-address.
    But still. It’s great to see the service coming to life and I am quite confident that it will be a bit more perfect day by day.