Electronic Mail Makes Wings Look Sluggish
Wheatley, Malcolm, The Independent (London, England)
ELECTRONIC mail, after a decade of waiting in the wings, is now approaching centre stage.
The reason is simple: it offers significant benefits over alternative methods of communication - and in particular over its principal competitor, the fax machine.
Electronic mail, or "e-mail", is fast. Send your message and it's on its way, arriving at the recipient's computer "mailbox" only moments later. Faxes, on the other hand, can sit in fax rooms or get delayed in internal mail systems.
E-mails also arrive in a format suitable for editing, amending or addition, unlike faxes. Take the e-mail, load it into the word processor and start working on it. Faxes, by contrast, need scanning (and proofreading) first.
E-mails can also include "binary" data, as well as text, so that spreadsheets or charts can be mailed as real live files that can be worked on.
With all these advantages, why has e-mail taken so long to catch on? The first reason is connectivity, as in the early days of fax machines, when there was no point getting one until enough other people had one too. But faxes took off relatively quickly: e-mail did not. Fax machines were easy to use and viewed as ordinary (and shared) pieces of office equipment: e-mails required computer familiarity - and (ideally) as many desktop computers as e-mail addressees. This has taken time.
The transformation has been the arrival of the network. More people's work involves them working with computers collectively.
Networked computers have enormously facilitated the use of e-mail: the network might have been put in place to enable people to share a database, or work together on sales order processing, for instance. Once the cables were in place, e-mails as well as data transactions could travel along them.
Although e-mails can be sent and received quite adequately along telephone lines from standalone computer to computer, it is obviously silly for workers in the same office workgroup to communicate with each other via the external telephone network.
Both the industry leaders in the field, Microsoft and Lotus, offer standalone e-mail products that organisations can purchase to add e-mail capability to their networks. …