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Gmail, IMAP and Windows Live Mail: the remote folders trick

While the procedure for setting up a Gmail IMAP account in Apple Mail is pretty straightforward, less so is the one to do the same on Windows Live Mail (“WLM” from now on). 1 Despite Microsoft’s claims that WLM has native support for Gmail (according to which it’s enough to enter one’s e-mail address and the application will choose the right settings), there are two important limitations:

  1. the automatic setup works only if the Gmail account is set to work on the POP3 protocol;
  2. Google Apps accounts (that is those on custom domains) are not automatically recognized, since they do not end with @gmail.com.

One more problem that contributes to making the whole process even more difficult lies in the fact that WLM does not recognize Gmail’s special folders (sent mail, trash, etc.) and that it refuses to let the user manually set them. But, as I’ll show, there’s a remedy. 2

In WLM, create a new e-mail account. It’s important to select the option “Manually configure server settings for e-mail account” like in the following image:

Windows Live Mail account settings Windows Live Mail account settings

The specific settings are:

  • My incoming mail server is: IMAP
  • Incoming server: imap.gmail.com
  • Port: 993
  • The server requires a secure connection (SSL) [for both incoming and outgoing servers]
  • Outgoing server: smtp.gmail.com
  • Port: 465
  • My outgoing server requires authentication

Gmail IMAP settings Gmail IMAP settings

1. Setting up special folders

Once the basic settings have been completed, WLM will show a window with the IMAP folders it found on the Gmail server—and here comes the problem: WLM does show the special folders, but, as can be seen by the icons it gives them, does not recognize them as special at all. Here’s how the issue can be solved (following a tip I found on About.com):

  1. right-click on the account name on the sidebar, and choose “Properties”
  2. in the “IMAP” tab, enable “Store special folders on IMAP server” and fill in as follows:

* Sent Items path: [Gmail]#Sent Mail
* Drafts path: [Gmail]#Drafts
* Deleted Items path: [Gmail]#Trash
* Junk path: [Gmail]#Spam 3

IMAP folders trick IMAP folders trick

Why is the # character used in folder names, when a slash (/) would be correct? Because WLM claims that the slash is a special characters, and should not be used in folder names. However, Gmail’s folder structure requires using a slash, since the special folders are subfolders of [Gmail].

2. WLM likes it rough

Now it’s a matter of forcing WLM to use the right folders:

  1. confirm the account properties by clicking on “OK
  2. answer no when the application asks to refresh the folder list after applying the changes
  3. quit WLM
  4. in Windows 7, open the Windows menu and enter the following path into the search box: C:\Users\\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows Live Mail, where is the current Windows user
  5. hit enter or click on the folder name the system suggests—the folder window should now open
  6. in that window, look for a folder with the same name as the Gmail account that was just created (it will not be the full name, but will still be clearly recognizable) and open it with a double click
  7. look for a file named account<...>.oeaccount, where <...> is a very long string of characters. By double-clicking on this file, the system will ask which application to open it with. Choose Notepad
  8. in Notepad, choose “Replace” from the Edit menu. In the box that pops up, enter:

* Find: [Gmail]#
* Replace: [Gmail]/
9. click on the “Replace all” button
10. save the file and quit Notepad.

The tough part is over—really. Now all that’s left to do is to open WLM and refresh the IMAP folders:
1. right-click on the account name on the sidebar
2. choose “IMAP folders…” from the menu
3. in the window that opens, click on the “Reset folders” button.

By doing so, WLM will correctly recognize Gmail’s special folders. When a message is erased, WLM moves it to Gmail’s Trash folder, which can then be emptied like any other deleted items folder (right-click, then choose “Empty deleted items”).

3. Two caveats

Obviously, since WLM is very picky, every time the account properties are changed (which should not happen too often anyway), the procedures shown in paragraphs 1 and 2 will need to be repeated.

Moreover, since sent mail is saved in the remote folder causes WLM to save two copies of all sent messages—this happens because Gmail automatically saves a copy of all messages sent through the smtp.gmail.com server. 4 This is easily solved with a trip to the application options, in the “Send” tab, by disabling the option “Save copy of sent messages in the ‘Sent Items’ folder,” like in the following image:

Don't save sent mail Don't save sent mail

In this case, however, if non-Gmail accounts are also used—ones that do not automatically save sent mail—messages sent through them will not be stored at all. One more limitation of Windows Live Mail, which, just like its ancient ancestor, Outlook Express, doesn’t seem designed with consideration for the user’s point of view. At least there is some margin of freedom for those who cannot do without it.


  1. Windows Live Mail, available for Windows 7, Vista and XP, is the successor to Windows Mail, which in turn replaced Outlook Express, still used by way too many people—despite its stability and compatibility issues, and the fact that Microsoft has stopped supporting it a while back. 

  2. For starters, it’s important for the Gmail account to be set to use the IMAP protocol:
    1. on the web interface, click on “Settings”
    2. click on the “Forwarding and POP/IMAP” tab
    3. in the “IMAP Access” section, select “Enable IMAP.” 

  3. These folder names are valid only if the account language was set to English on the Gmail site. If the account was set in a different language, the folder names after “[Gmail]#” must be in the chosen language. If the language gets changes, this procedure must be repeated for WLM to recognize the change. 

  4. This doesn’t happen in other e-mail clients, such as Apple Mail, which has better communication with the server and prevents duplicate messages to be stored in the same folder—and also allows for a better management of IMAP folders in general. 

Windows Live Mail account settings
Gmail IMAP settings
IMAP folders trick
Don't save sent mail