i just tried enabling internet explorer again but it didn't make any difference. I also tried foxmail mainly because it has an option to test the settings when creating a new account. the report shows that it can find the smtp server but it can't connect to it. the test continues trying to send a test email forever so i can't get results for the next of the tests, and still i can't download my emails so i am guessing it just can't connect to the imap server either.
i also tried installing foxmail on my other laptop using xp home (using the same internet connection, wireless network, and gmail account) again, everything works perfectly so this looks like an issue with my 7 setup and not related the imap/smtp client or server. i'm not even sure how to try and trace the problem anymore. some type of ssl or some authentication issue maybe? i would hate to have to reinstall windows without finding what the problem was in the first place.