Steve Jobs attempted to turn email into a "walled garden" system in the 1980s by trying to headhunt the Carnegie Mellon team who were revolutionising email file attachments at the time.
Nathaniel Borenstein, who developed the email component of Carnegie Mellon's Andrew Project and is credited specifically with creating what became the MIME (multipurpose internet mail extensions) standard, told V3 how Jobs one day came to visit.
"Towards the end of my time at Carnegie Mellon, Steve Jobs had come by and we gave him a demo of the message system, and he immediately tried to hire the whole team," Borenstein, who is now cloud email management firm Mimecast's chief scientist, said.
"Nobody went, because we'd heard all the stories, you know?" he said. "So he went back - this was in the NeXT Computer era - and put together a team to build what he called NeXTMail. And I didn't mind - imitation, sincerest form of flattery, right?"
But Borenstein noticed "something interesting" had happened.
"His people had created a system to send pictures to each other, and I had created a system to do that, but my people couldn't send pictures to his, because they were incompatible, and that's what got me thinking about how standards work.
"And I started going to [meetings] to work on this stuff, and I teamed up with people who had other compatible goals. And I was interested in multimedia - what I told everyone who would listen was that someday I'd be a grandfather and wanted to be emailed photos of my grandchildren," Borenstein explained.
While people "laughed" at his simple aims, Borenstein's vision was compelling enough that he managed to start gaining support.
"I hooked up with people who were doing two other things - trying to internationalise the language, as well as gatewaying to each other," he told V3.
"Those two things together helped us form enough of a coalition behind us to get the standard out there."
It helped that Borenstein spent the whole period while drafting the standard working on an open source release, too.
"That helped the adoption a lot," he said.
"But I wasn't as aware of the idea of open standards until NextMail, and I [it made me say], ‘Oh, this is not the way it should go'. That was not my original driver, but it became it, as otherwise we'd have had a walled garden with email."
To watch Computing's recent web seminar around the topic of phishing and whaling protection, featuring panellists from Mimecast, please visit the archived broadcast.
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