When I write about dealing with messages, I often use the word "mailbox" to mean a virtual mailbox, i.e., a set of messages that match a set of conditions. I don't care about the underlying data structure or what an actual "physical" mailbox comprises. To me, what's important are the different views, or virtual mailboxes, that I can use to manage my messages. Thanks to Gmail, Opera Mail, and all the other tools that support tags, labels, and keywords, more and more people are getting used to -- and demanding -- the ability to slice & dice their data however they like. So, in summary, sometimes a mailbox is just a mailbox, but sometimes it's just not.
I hope this helps to clarify this very abstract -- and very useful -- way of thinking about messaging!
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