by December 1, 1999 0 comments

The computer industry has no doubt moved at a very rapid pace. According to several analysts, if the transport industry had progressed as fast as computing did, then we’d be using teleporters–much like in Star Trek–rather than what we have today. So many things have happened in the past millennium that it would be impossible to try and document them all in one place, even if this is a bumper issue of PC
Quest.

I’m in fact going to be more specific, and concentrate on one of the most critical applications on the Internet–e-mail. It’s been considered to be the killer app as far as the Internet goes, and even today, despite all the other fancy technologies that are available, it’s still the most-used application. Be it at office, home, school, university or on the road, everybody needs his or her daily fix of e-mail. Take away their e-mail even for a few hours, and you have a bunch of irate users on hand.

Where did it all begin? Man has always had a
need to communicate. In the beginning, there were drums and smoke signals, later came more sophisticated methods, and eventually the telephone and telegraph. If one can consider e-mail as the process of sending a message electronically, then the first e-mail
message would actually be through telegraph–way back in the 1800s. But for now, let’s consider e-mail as the process of sending messages from one computer to another–or rather, from one user to another–over a network. 

It all began in 1971 in the defence labs of the Advanced Research Projects Agency
(ARPA). This is also where the Internet really started off, albeit much earlier than e-mail. In 1971, a program called SNDMSG was used to send the first e-mail message. From there on, it just hasn’t looked back and today, we have the most sophisticated e-mail programs available.

With more than 80 million users on the Net, it’s not surprising that e-mail traffic is as high as it gets to be these days. Even in India–where we joined the Internet bandwagon a little late–in its first year of operation, VSNL reported an e-mail traffic of more than one million messages per day. And that’s no small amount by any means. This doesn’t even account for the other networks in the country–once these are added together, the number’s mind-boggling.

What makes e-mail so popular? I guess it’s the simplicity–type a few lines, and at the click of a button, your message goes to distant parts of the world, reaching friends, family, and business associates. It takes very little time–in most cases just a few seconds, and the cost per message is nominal, or even zero. Most ISPs don’t charge you separately for e-mail. Sure, they charge you for accessing the network, but during the time that you have access, all the services they offer become free. In a typical situation, you can send dozens of messages per minute. So how do you begin to ascribe costs to them?

Today, e-mail is no longer a luxury–it’s become a necessity. No matter what line of work you’re in, the first thing that people ask when they meet is your e-mail address. Over the past five years, a very noticeable trend has been the appearance of e-mail addresses on just about anything published. Be it a newspaper advertisement, a brochure, a book, or of course a visiting card–you’ll see an e-mail address tagged along somewhere.

In large corporations, e-mail used to be looked down upon as a major productivity killer. Much like with the Web, users would just sit and read e-mail all day long, not doing the work they were supposed to do. Fortunately, that’s changed now, and e-mail has matured into an essential business tool.

We’ve heard some negative comments about e-mail as well–things like e-mail has made people distant and non-communicative. Au contraire! We now have the opportunity to stay in touch with business associates, and friends and family alike. No matter where you are or what you’re doing, you can always send out that e-mail.

So what does the future of e-mail hold? Well, some of it has already begun to happen. E-mail with voice and video is already available. So, even the hassle of typing in that message will be gone.
Will e-mail go away? Not at all, I’ve a feeling this one’s here to stay for sure. No matter what happens, no matter what advances take place, e-mail is here to stay. I know it’s dangerous to make predictions–most people who do, tend to regret it later–but this is one I feel quite comfortable about. If there’s ever a nuclear holocaust, and if we survive it, I think e-mail will survive with us.

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