Feeds

Email pioneer says breakthrough was too much trouble

'If I'd known I'd never have written that piece of code'

Security for virtualized datacentres

The man who invented the internet's most popular email routing system says he would never have done it had he known how much trouble it was going to be.

Eric Allman, who founded email routing system Sendmail, tells this week's edition of technology law podcast OUT-LAW Radio that he would "never have agreed" to the project had he known how much work it was going to be.

"Berkeley [at University of California] was supposed to build the internet platform for research, and one of the things they needed was an internet mailer, an SMTP mailer, and so I let myself get talked into writing that piece of code," said Allman, who was not paid for his work.

"To be honest if I had known how much work it would have been I would probably never have agreed to do it. It was harder to write than I expected. Most people who have worked on this sort of thing say the same; it looks deceptively easy till you actually get in to try and do it."

Allman's email routing system is used all over the world still to send emails between systems. It began as what Allman calls a "technical solution to a political problem" when students wanted to access the Arpanet network which was the predecessor to the internet.

"I said what they really want is email, so I can connect the Arpanet to the network we already had at Berkeley called the Berknet and forward email around, it was a very, very simple program and it worked, sort of," he said.

That early system, Delivermail, morphed into Sendmail, still the most popular mail transfer agent (MTA) on the internet. It remains the standard MTA in various Unix operating systems.

Allman did not form a company around his technology until the late 1990s, and watched college contemporaries become millionaires and leading lights of Silicon Valley. He was at college with Eric Schmidt, the Google chief executive who used to run Novell, and Sun Microsystems founder Bill Joy.

"There were a lot of people at Berkeley at that time who were incredibly, scarily bright people, many of whom have gone on to be well known in the industry today," said Allman. "One person said Bill [Joy] had more ideas in an afternoon than he would have in a month. People would follow Bill around just hoping to get an idea they could turn into a PhD thesis."

Allman said he could not have formed a company around Sendmail to rival the products of Silicon Valley in the 1980s such as Apple or Microsoft or Sun because email was not ubiquitous until much later.

"Email wasn't the phenomenon then that it is now. Email was something that the geeks wanted but the commercial people didn't. I could have started earlier but I probably would have gone out of business because there wouldn't have been many people willing to buy it," he said.

See: OUT-LAW Radio

Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
Bono apologises for iTunes album dump
Megalomania, generosity and FEAR of irrelevance drove group to Apple deal
HBO shocks US pay TV world: We're down with OTT. Netflix says, 'Gee'
This affects every broadcaster, every cable guy
Facebook, Apple: LADIES! Why not FREEZE your EGGS? It's on the company!
No biological clockwatching when you work in Silicon Valley
French 'terror law' declares WAR on the INTERNET itself, say digi-rights folks
Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité: Two out of three ain't bad
SCREW YOU, EU: BBC rolls out Right To Remember as Google deletes links
Not even Google can withstand the power of Auntie
Arab States make play for greater government control of the internet
Nerds told to get lost in last-minute power grab bid at UN meeting
Zippy one-liners, broken promises: Doctor Who on the Orient Express
Series finally hits stride, but Clara's U-turn is baffling
Don't bother telling people if you lose their data, say Euro bods
You read that right – with the proviso that it's encrypted
America's super-secret X-37B plane returns to Earth after nearly TWO YEARS aloft
674 days in space for US Air Force's mystery orbital vehicle
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Win a year’s supply of chocolate
There is no techie angle to this competition so we're not going to pretend there is, but everyone loves chocolate so who cares.
Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.