Here is a prediction: in the next few years traditional POP+SMTP email setup will become virtually extinct. I’m basing this on several factors. For one, no one actually remembers what these things are anymore. My students think that POP is what southerners call carbonated drinks (it’s soda here btw) and that SMTP is a made up acronym that I coined on the spot just to have more buzzwords to test them on. But that’s just one of the factors.
Factor number two, possibly the more important one is that providing users with a SMTP access is becoming less and less practical with every day. Port 25 is pretty much universally blocked across the board. Almost no company or public institution leaves it open these days. Many ISP’s do the same thing for their residential clients, insisting that they use their designated SMTP server or nothing at all. Of course if you go to the trouble of blocking outbound traffic on 25 you might as well also block 587 (which is designated as the official authenticated SMTP port and is the second most common port used for the protocol). Most corporate firewalls are usually set up to block all outbound traffic except port 80 and 22 (and sometimes 110 for email). The idea is that clever people will be able to get around the restrictions with SSH tunneling while the sheep can suffer in the name of combating spam and internet worms. Which, btw is something that I generally approve. I’m all for locking down firewalls, and protecting lusers from their own stupidity by not letting them do anything.
I’m merely making an observation here. Every day our society becomes more mobile with proliferation of wifi networks, 3G and other wire free technologies. Laptop sales are skyrocketing, and overshadowing desktop sales. Most of my students never actually owned a desktop. Most of my co-workers do not have desktop computers at their homes. Casual users buy laptops. Desktops are now primarily built for the business sector and high end gaming crowd. But while people are getting more mobile, the SMTP gets less useful. Let me illustrate this by example.
Let’s say a big company hires a promising young man named Bob. Bob is issued a company laptop since he will be expected to sometimes work from home. Since Bob is an idiot as far as the IT department is concerned his email was set up for himwith company’s POP and SMTP information ahead of time and he was trained to use it. As expected his email works perfectly when he is sitting in his cubicle, however when he takes the laptop home trying to finish an important project a disaster strikes. He can receive email but he cannot send because his ISP is blocking Port 25. So he spends 4 hours on the phone with his IT department trying to explain to them that his “Microsoft is giving him an error when he tries to send an email”. Then he spends another 4 hours on the phone with his ISP trying to configure his Outlook to use their SMTP server.
Finally he is able to send his super important email at 4am in the morning, catches 2 hours of sleep and he is back in his cubicle at 8am only to realize his email is not working again. It turns out his ISP’s SMTP server doesn’t relay emails from outside of their network. And even if it did, his company is blocking Port 25 anyway allowing only their own SMTP server to send emails out. The IT folks play rock-paper-scissors to see who gets to deal with Bob-the-Retard this time. The loser, makes a cheat sheet for Bob with each step explained in minutiae detail and accompanied by screen shots and then staples it to Bob’s head so that he doesn’t misplace or eat it.
Of course this story repeats itself whenever Bob visits a new place. Soon enough he has a cheat sheet for work, his apartment, his girlfriends house, his favorite coffee shop, the local park, the hotel he stayed at, a conference hall in Boston, and etc… Each time Bob moves his laptop from one location to another, he is required to first find out what SMTP server he can use there and then reconfigure his Outlook.
A lot of companies and institutions which employ many Bob’s get quickly fed up with this sort of thing. So what do they do? They migrate to webmail solutions. Exchange for example has a rich webmail client which looks almost exactly like Outlook and can be used by Bob’s when they work outside of the office. Other, more courageous folks make a leap of faith and migrate their email and calendaring to Google Apps or Zimbra.
ISP’s on the other hand don’t even tell their customers about their POP+SMTP offerings. They provide them with a webmail client instead. Those determined enough can find POP (or IMAP) and SMTP info buried deep in their online help documents.
Public SMTP’s will eventually get phased out and locked behind firewalls. ISP’s no longer promote them as it is. How many users will complain if they simply hide the SMTP server from them and request that they use webmail instead? Right now they may alienate a sizable chunk of their customer base but the majority won’t even notice. In 5 years the only people who will complain will be bunch of us geeks. And no one ever listens to us. We are almost never the target demographic for anything – we are the outliers which skew up the statistical analysis.