This month, rather to my surprise, has been mostly about email. Unlike the procession of businesses I saw during the closing months of 2006 that had all forgotten how much data they held in their email repositories, this time it’s been more to do with the industry itself; in particular, with the sad demise of Pegasus Mail. This product was an early entrant to the email market, well before internet email became a widely accepted standard for smaller businesses. Many people would use David Harris’ neat little program as a front end for the mail system (such as it was) inside their Novell server. Despite being a one-man product, Pegasus did move with the times, adding all the required protocols and systems to participate in internet mail very well. I always thought of it as one of those “got there first” standards that consequently suffered once the bigger players turned up in the weird marketplace for email clients (which always rather oddly seemed to be lead by apparently free offerings that would force you to buy something much more expensive as soon as you tried to do anything complicated).
With Pegasus, you didn’t pay for the product, but you did pay for the manual, and for support. An important marketing choice, but one that I assume led to the funding crisis that has finally closed the product. It sank just when times seem never to have been better for “free” email clients in other parts of the market – Mozilla Thunderbird has become all the things Pegasus could or should have been, and I’m tempted to attribute that to a cruel truth about the difference between one-man bands and freely participatory development communities. But it’s always sad to see a worthy global player go out of operation, even though the sturdy and professional Mr Harris has said that existing maintenance contracts will be honoured.
The way people think about their email has always left me deeply puzzled. There seems to be a multiplicity of “tribes” who have unchanging and unchallengeable views, but no real idea why they settled in one group rather than another – they always distrust the choices of nearby tribes (sometimes even when the other uses the same software, but in a slightly different manner). See if you recognise yourself in any of these tribal descriptions:
1 The Pack Rat
The person who uses email as a structured store for the unstructured thinker, squirrelling away gigabytes of junk in hidden files, deep in the boot drive of the typical home PC – just waiting for No-I-don’t-have-a-backup Day and that mortally wounded look that every small-systems support person knows and dreads. Sadly, this species is not confined to the home – small-to-medium businesses harbour many people working this way too, with the attendant nightmares as soon as the PC goes down.
2 The Massive Corporate
A 100,000-seat wide area network where a 50MB mailbox is the norm and a 100MB one a privilege. Unlike the Pack Rats, these users will be very tightly tied to one another via centralised contact lists, shared diaries and automatic scheduling, but they can’t alter a single setting – either in the software or their position within that massive corporate structure – without a week of exchanging (paper!) memos to requisition a redesign. Frequently, a virus that enters such a network through the corporate-maintained IT department anti-virus scanner will result in the disciplining or firing of the user that receives it – a fine logic now to be found only in corporate IT since the demise of the late Roman and Mongol empires.