by Nathaniel Borenstein
It’s that time again. It seems to come around at least a few times a year. Time to question if there’s life left in the old email dog.
The first time I heard the death of email predicted was in 1980, as a graduate student in Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University. I had just joined the set of people whose duties included maintaining and developing the electronic mail and bulletin board systems upon which my department was already dependent. There were well over a hundred machines on the global network, so things had gotten pretty complex.
Nathaniel Borenstein also shared his views on the strength of email this week on Australia’s ABC Radio Future Tense http://mim.ec/1dBomn8
It was true then, and it’s true now: Email is indeed an old technology, with lots of legacy problems. However, that doesn’t mean that starting over will necessarily yield a better result, much less one that could justify the cost of the transition.
So, every few years for the last third of a century or so, someone has come along with a grand plan to do something that will make email obsolete. To date, that hasn’t happened, largely because most people don’t understand why email has been so successful in the first place.
Email has succeeded, in large part, because of the following architectural factors:
- Open protocols. It must be possible for different people to use different software and still communicate with each other. That software can’t all be written in the same place. The great virtue of the open protocol process is that anyone can participate, most problems are anticipated, and the result actually works well for multiple vendors.
- Backwards compatibility. In 1980, the Internet was already getting to be too big and distributed to simply change protocols on a “flag day” as it had occasionally. The best way to replace a protocol is to extend and evolve it.
- Inclusivity of community. In the early days of email there were islands of communities, such as CompuServe or FIDOnet, in which people could communicate with each other but not beyond the island. Although some providers tried to stay isolated, the value of having email extend to anyone you might possibly want to reach was overwhelmingly more important than the financial interests of a company like AOL — a fact that today’s social networks, like the earliest email providers, have so far managed to ignore. IM or email on your social network of choice is great for contacting another ‘friend’, but no good if you want to reach someone outside that closed network.
And, arguably but more controversially, this factor:
- Unauthenticated and uncontrolled. The lack of authentication in Internet mail (and on the Internet in general) is often cited as one of its weaknesses but is in some ways its strength. It’s a mixed bag because it simultaneously facilitates certain kinds of criminality while strengthening personal freedom. The ideal balance can be argued, but it seems clear why it has emerged the way it has — individuals and institutions alike are leery of ceding power where matters of privacy are concerned.
Recently I read in Wired that a new company, Asana, has observed that email is an old technology, with lots of legacy problems particularly inside organizations. So, it wants us to start over with something new. Like its many predecessor email replacements, Asana is no doubt a mix of mostly-good ideas that ignore some of the key factors above. In fact, it reminds me most of an early-90′s company called General Magic.
General Magic had done some really good things with asynchronous communication. Most notably, messages could include programs that would be executed on the recipient’s end. To do this safely, of course, strong authentication was required. Probably for that reason, General Magic conceived its product as an alternative to email rather than compatible with email.
(It was, by the way, possible to do the same sorts of things in Internet email — I and other researchers had already done in the past. But it would have required standardization and more complexity, and it would have been far less profitable for General Magic. Dominating all asynchronous communication in the world, that’s where the real money is.)
Anyway, what ended up happening to all the well-funded “email replacement” schemes I know of (Asana is founded by Dustin Moskovitz of Facebook fame, General Magic was Apple and AT&T) is that they built some fabulous demos, got a few key “showcase” users, and kept trying until they either ran out of money or evolved a more profitable business model. General Magic did both — after some hard times, it came back to do things like build the first version of OnStar, but then cratered in the Internet crash.
Asana may do well or badly, I wouldn’t care to predict. But I’ll predict that if it’s still around in a few years, it won’t be pitching itself as an alternative to email. It’ll be telling you how well it works with email and how much it improves email.
I hope it’ll be right, because email is an old technology, with lots of legacy problems.
by Sean Broderick
Mimecast was named Softchoice’s “Cloud Super Category Vendor of the Year” at the North American Solutions and Services provider’s annual Launch conference in Toronto. Michael Kane, Softchoice’s director of business development for Softchoice Cloud and Client Software presented us with the award based on our overall revenue performance, growth, interaction and engagement across sales, marketing and business development organizations.
Members from Softchoice and Mimecast gathered at the Vendor of the Year award ceremony.
This award comes on the heels of our recent announcement that Mimecast topped the one million dollar threshold with Softchoice, solidifying our status as one of the top revenue-producing vendors for Softchoice’s cloud business. Through our strategic partnership, Mimecast and Softchoice bring end-users a total email management platform in the cloud, including seamless migration to Microsoft Office 365, continuity and archiving from Mimecast. In addition, we recently launched our first bundled solution with Softchoice to solve high availability, security and migration challenges when moving to the cloud. The bundle includes technology from Mimecast, Softchoice and Microsoft.
Our relationship with Softchoice is a great example of how the right level of channel engagement can exponentially accelerate growth. Softchoice’s dedication to a cloud practice, and adding value to their customers’ cloud needs, is the perfect complement to Mimecast’s products and services.
by Stuart Handley
I was intrigued to see that someone named the fourth week in January, ‘Clean Out Your Inbox Week’. This was an initiative aimed at helping employees take control of their inbox and reduce email overload. Ever expanding inboxes are something we all have to deal with at work and home, and many people struggle to manage their inbox effectively…often cited as a major cause of workplace stress.
With Mimecast’s cloud archive service, the archive is bottomless and sits securely in the cloud, and off the corporate network.
From our point of view, this is not just an issue for individuals but also a situation impacting corporates and their IT departments. As email inboxes get bigger and data storage costs rise, more and more management resources become sucked into looking after this growing email infrastructure and its mass of unstructured data.
But happily there are solutions to these problems.
Even the most hardened hoarder of emails can be helped. Firstly, if your organization uses a cloud email security service like Mimecast you can significantly cut the spam cluttering inboxes and clogging up costly data storage on the network. The vast majority of email that hits your network is unwanted spam (estimates vary in excess of 70%) and our service stops this even reaching your organization. If you don’t do this, checking and filtering this email wastes valuable IT time and resources unnecessarily.
Once you’re sure what’s in the inbox is ‘real’, next stop is effective filing and archiving. The problem is that for many people storing their emails into an archive is a concern – they are sending the email and its attachments off to a dusty, never to be seen again archive out of their control. Once it’s there, it’s simply too difficult to recover– so these emails stay languishing in the inbox and squatting on the enterprise’s network just in case they need them.
With a cloud archive service like Mimecast’s, we help you get round that problem. The archive is bottomless and sits securely in the cloud, and off the corporate network. So IT managers can reduce their storage burden. For the user, the archive is interactive – they can search, access and re-use all their archived emails forever safe in the knowledge it’s being securely and safely stored indefinitely if they want. When we show IT managers and their users this, we see a major shift in attitude about the archive. The concern about using them proactively to help manage the burden on their inbox goes away. If this archive is then paired with end user productivity tools like our mobile apps, the archive can become invaluable – available to users where and when they want, on their device of choice.
So you can have the best of both worlds. A zero mail inbox and easy, searchable access to every mail you ever received or sent if that is what you want or need. This will be good news to those emailers who made a New Year resolution to finally get off their IT manager’s naughty list.
by Peter Bauer
Satya Nadella becomes the third CEO of Microsoft, having previously held the position of Executive Vice President of Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise group.
I was asked to share my views on the appointment of Satya Nadella as new Microsoft CEO with The Independent, The Evening Standard and The New Zealand Herald so I thought I’d take the opportunity to expand on what I told them here.
It doesn’t come as too much of a surprise because he’s a known quantity within Microsoft circles and has a proven track record of success in previous roles. The Microsoft I’ve always known likes to promote from within. More than that, it sends a signal of where Microsoft sees the key battles being fought over the next five years or so.
Despite the success of Xbox, the acquisition of Nokia and other consumer-oriented initiatives, Microsoft’s heartland is undoubtedly in the enterprise. Microsoft is in the early stages of a major shift from the provision of on-premise licensed software to subscription-based Cloud services. The die is cast in terms of the steady shift of enterprise IT investment into the Cloud so it makes sense that Microsoft embraces this shift. But what makes it even more critical is that the Cloud is in Google’s DNA not yet Microsoft’s.
So the stage is set for a monumental battle for the hearts, minds and dollars of the world’s enterprise CIOs. Microsoft has the market share and the track record in serving this audience but Google is making inroads. For much of Microsoft and its partner network, this is a time of great creative change and opportunity.
Satya Nadella has shown that he’s able to grasp the nettles and drive the Cloud agenda at Microsoft. The stakes are high and Google, Apple and a raft of start-up organizations own significant Cloud mindshare now.
Will Microsoft succeed? We believe it’ll win with apps and back-end business services because such a huge percentage of the enterprise base has been well served by Microsoft’s technologies over the years, and the first choice for most of these organizations will be to migrate to the Microsoft Cloud with as little disruption to end users as possible.
Will it succeed with devices? I think it’ll need to pick its battles. Microsoft used to have a clear lead on the end user operating system and to the extent that its future strategy might rely on recreating this scenario it’ll certainly have a tough fight. Future work surfaces will be a diverse set of devices and it’s hard to imagine Microsoft evicting iOS and Android from these markets. So I think the front-end operating systems are going to need to be less important to Microsoft and perhaps that’s something that comes more naturally to Satya Nadella than it might have to Steve Ballmer.
But it won’t be easy. One of Microsoft’s advantages has traditionally been its extensive network of partners, both in terms of channel and software vendors like Mimecast. It’s crucial, as Microsoft seeks to move its customer base to the Cloud, that it continues to partner in order to provide the best possible Cloud experience to demanding enterprise customers.
Certainly from our point of view we’re strongly backing the Microsoft horse and optimizing our services for Office 365, the company’s Cloud version of Exchange. We’re looking to help customers and prospects build their short, mid and long-term plans to move all their email services to the Cloud.
Ultimately, Mr. Nadella’s appointment is all about Microsoft’s commitment to the Cloud. Given that Mimecast has been a catalyst for Cloud adoption since we started ten years ago, we’re very encouraged that Microsoft has appointed a CEO who shares our view on the future of IT.