Recently I helped a family member set up a new PC, which included installing Windows Live Mail 2011 and configuring it for use with her Gmail account. Just one problem: she has something like 75,000 messages in this account, and Live Mail insisted on downloading them all. Needless to say, the program choked on that much mail; it was barely operable.
This is one of the wrinkles associated with using Gmail's otherwise awesome IMAP feature, which effectively turns your mail client into an extension of the mail server. (You can learn more about this in my old post, Use Gmail IMAP with Your Desktop E-Mail Client.) Unfortunately, Live Mail lacks any kind of setting for limiting the number of messages it downloads; with IMAP, it's all or nothing.
Fortunately, Gmail itself offers a way to close the spigot, so to speak. All it takes is a quick trip to the control panel:
1. Open your browser and connect to your Gmail account.
2. Click the little gear icon in the top-right corner, then click Mail settings.
3. Click the Forwarding and POP/IMAP tab, the scroll down to Folder Size Limits.
4. Enable this setting: Limit IMAP folders to contain no more than this many messages.
5. Choose a number of messages: 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, or 10,000. (My advice: start with 2,000 and see if that's not enough. You can always increase it later.)
Once I did this on my cousin's PC (I set hers to 5,000), Windows Live Mail had a much easier time grappling with her Gmail account. If she needs to search back more than 5,000 messages' worth, she can always fire up Gmail proper.
Gmail IMAP is a wonderful thing, but if you're not good about keeping your inbox neatly pruned, don't be surprised if your mail client can't handle it.
Contributing Editor Rick Broida writes about business and consumer technology. Ask for help with your PC hassles at firstname.lastname@example.org, or try the treasure trove of helpful folks in the PC World Community Forums.