Gabor Cselle, the founder of reMail, recently posted an idea for replacing the IMAP email protocol with something with which working would be easier. The proposed name? reMAP, short for reimagined Mail Access Protocol.
He calls for a RESTful design that among other things would globalize message identifiers (rather than changing them the instant a message is moved to a new folder), replace folders with labels (a la Gmail), require the server to handle email search indexes, and make conversations the basic unit of email (instead of individual messages). reMAP would also make handling MIME messages unnecessary; the client could simply call the server with a request for text or HTML message representations without having to deal with parsing the MIME format itself.
I personally am in agreement with his entire proposal. The experiences I’ve had with IMAP in the past have highlighted shortcomings in a standard that was drafted over 15 years ago. Email has changed a great deal since then, but IMAP has not been revised to accommodate the enhancements made by newer clients and services like Gmail.
If IMAP is to be improved, it’s probably appropriate to just completely replace it with something new. If the new system can translate IMAP commands into the equivalent operations in its own protocol, that’s even better, because then servers can be upgraded without worries of breaking compatibility with older clients or the need to run server applications for IMAP and reMAP side by side.
As a side note, I see that Gabor is using Blogger’s FTP publishing option, which will be going away soon. I hope the link will still work when he has to move.