Anyone in my position gets lots of mail, and since I’ve been publishing my electronic mail addresses for a decade, I get lots of E-mail as well. The ones I dread are not the ones that wonder if my parents were married. They are the ones with something along the lines of G=Joe/S-Bloggs/ O=Clueless/A=slowmail/C= us in the header.
The X.400 markers are a sure sign that it will take longer to write the address correctly than to answer the letter, and that the chances of it getting through are so slim that I might as well not bother.
One of the reasons for Internet E-mail’s popularity is that so many useful addresses are relatively easy to remember. Once you have been told that Bill Clinton is president@whitehouse. gov there’s no reason why you should ever forget it.
Well, perhaps that’s not a very useful address, but it is shorter, simpler and more memorable than the X.400 or even the snail-mail equivalent. And because of the Internet’s fast-growing popularity, X.400 addressing is doomed, as Jim Carroll explained in the last EEMA (European Electronic Messaging Association) Briefing.
X.400 networks won’t simply cease to exist, but they will disappear into the background. Carroll envisages the use of Internet domain naming over X.400 backbones, but says suppliers have to face reality and come up with an elegant way to replace X.400 addresses with Internet ones.
In fact it was the receipt of the first bit of E-mail to do this — a press release from Paragon and Pipex about Paragon’s MessageXchange — that prompted this piece. I don’t know what they’ve done, exactly, but there’s clearly an Internet address in the X400-Originator field.
Technically there’s nothing much wrong with X.400, and a decade ago I wrote articles promoting its use for linking incompatible E-mail systems. However, its death is an interesting example of a simple, cheap, user-oriented system triumphing over a complex, expensive supplier-oriented one.
Suppliers — who, it seems to me, actually dominate most standards committees — always want to cater for difficult problems and allow for unusual cases. Throw in the usual vested interests (support for old products) and it’s no wonder these committees move slowly and specify systems that are complicated and hard to build. Users don’t care about such matters: they want something that works, and they want it now, thanks.
Both sides are right, but on the Pareto principle, the users are more right than the suppliers. And there are more of them.
X.400 has levels of robustness, reliability and security that are impressive but mostly irrelevant because 80% of E-mail is trivial. Sure, if you’re delivering large quantities of banknotes, you’ll want a secure system: the on-line equivalent of an armoured van and a couple of guards. Christmas cards don’t require the same precautions, and nor do most of the letters and other files sent over the Internet.
No doubt some people will be annoyed about a corporate system having to be made to fit what is fast becoming a consumer system. Too bad. That almost always happens when a technology reaches the mass market, and E-mail is on the point of that now.