At last, Microsoft's Outlook.com has been IMAP'd. On Thursday, Microsoft announced that its e-mail service is now supporting the popular protocol.

In a posting on the Outlook Blog, as well as in a question-and-answer session on Reddit, representatives from Microsoft noted that Outlook.com "already supports the industry's best e-mail conductivity with Exchange ActiveSync (EAS)." EAS is utilized by Windows Phone, iOS, and Android devices, as well the Windows 8 Mail app. IMAP can be used by, among other clients, Mac Mail and Thunderbird on a Mac.

While Microsoft pointed to the EAS protocol as being the "most robust" for e-mail, providing near real-time Relevant Products/Services syncing and "superior battery and network Relevant Products/Services efficiencies," it acknowledged that the older IMAP is widely supported on feature phones and other clients. Outlook is supporting IMAP version 4 rev 1.

App Updates

Apps such as TripIt, Sift, Slice, motley*bunch, Unroll.me, OtherInbox, and Context.IO issued updates Thursday that include the new IMAP support.

TripIt, a travel planner, can now detect e-mail confirmations in an Outlook.com inbox, and then import them into a TripIT itinerary. Sift, a product finder, can now use shopping content in an Outlook.com account to help create a personalized shopping experience.

Slice helps keep track of everything bought online, including e-mails about package tracking, and motley*bunch can now sync with an Outlook account to organize packages and shipments into a personal catalog. Unroll.me provides an easier way to unsubscribe from e-mail subscriptions, OtherInBox offers tools for keeping the Outlook inbox organized, and Context.IO is an e-mail API for building apps that integrate data Relevant Products/Services from e-mail.

IMAP allows an e-mail client to access messages stored on a remote e-mail server, which means that updates to an inbox will appear on devices across platforms. An e-mail that has been read in one device, for example, will also show up as read on another. Before this IMAP support, Outlook.com users without EAS support in their e-mail clients needed to use the Post Office Protocol (POP) that requires messages to be downloaded in order to be managed.

Competing With Google

EAS is a protocol intended for syncing e-mail, contacts, calendar, tasks and notes from a server to a mobile Relevant Products/Services device. Originally, it only supported Microsoft Exchange Servers and Microsoft Pocket PC devices. In addition to Windows Phone devices and the e-mail app in Windows 8, EAS support is also available on the BlackBerry 10 smartphones, on the iPhone and iPad, and on a variety of Android smartphones and tablets.

Microsoft has also announced that Outlook.com will now be supporting OAuth, the authentication standard, thus assisting in secure Relevant Products/Services interactions with third-party software Relevant Products/Services.

These steps are part of Microsoft's upgrading of Outlook.com, as the company tries to better position it as a worthy competitor to Google's Gmail. Other recent improvements to Outlook have included Skype integration, an enhanced calendar, and two-factor authentication. Google has been removing support for EAS from its services.