Outlook.com Gains IMAP Support, Grows App Ecosystem

IMAP is added to the Web mail service. Microsoft brings Outlook.com in line with big rivals, and works to make it attractive to app devs and Web services providers.


Microsoft has added Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP) with OAuth 2.0 support to Outlook.com, the company revealed during a Sept. 12 Reddit AMA (ask me anything) session with the team responsible for the successor to the popular Hotmail Web mail service.

The update not only fills one of the service's most glaring omissions but also delivers on one of the most-sought-after features of users that wanted an alternative to Post Office Protocol (POP) and Exchange ActiveSync (EAS). The move also makes it easier for mobile app developers to integrate better with Outlook.com.

Outlook.com emerged from its limited preview period and was opened up to all users on Feb. 18. During its trial run, the Hotmail replacement attracted 60 million users. In May, Microsoft completed the Hotmail-Outlook transition following a six-week undertaking that involved migrating 150 petabytes of email. The end result yielded 400 million active Outlook.com accounts.

On Aug. 19, Microsoft extended the service in select regions (the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Brazil, France and Canada) by switching on Skype video calling. The feature, once rolled out worldwide, will enable users to participate in video calls, in addition to voice and video chats, with members of Skype's massive user base (300 million).

Despite the new features and enhancements, Outlook.com still lacked a major connectivity option that rivals long supported.

In response to a Reddit user who noted that rivals like Gmail and Yahoo Mail included IMAP support, Steve Kafka, principal program manager lead of Outlook.com protocols, revealed the news. Hinting that his team was constantly fielding questions about IMAP, he replied, "I’m excited to announce that starting right now we DO support IMAP, and we wanted you folks to be the first to know. Go check it out."

In an Outlook Blog post, Kafka maintained that EAS is a superior protocol that provides "syncing in near real time, and superior battery and network efficiency." Not all mobile device makers and app developers have been persuaded to pursue Microsoft's protocol.

He added, "There are still some devices and apps that haven't made the upgrade to EAS." Describing it as an "older protocol," Kafka noted that "IMAP is widely supported on feature phones and other email clients such as those on a Mac," limiting Outlook.com's appeal on such devices.

"We heard your feedback loud and clear that this was important," stated Kafka.

In addition to helping users connect to the service regardless of device, adding IMAP "gives developers opportunities to build third-party clients and services that offer value-added scenarios on top of your Outlook.com email," said Kafka.

TripIt, Sift, Slice, motley*bunch, Unroll.me, OtherInbox and Context.IO are among the apps and services that now integrate with Outlook.com via IMAP. TripIt, for example, "can now detect emails with travel confirmations in any Outlook.com inbox, and automatically import them into a TripIt itinerary," Kafka said.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the Internet.com network of...