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MCI Mail

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MCI Mail

MCI Mail was a commercial email service that was operated by MCI Communications Corp. from 1983 to 2003. The service was one of the first commercial email services in the United States.

History

The MCI Mail service was launched on September 23, 1983, in Washington, D.C., during a press conference that was hosted by MCI's founder and Chairman, William G. McGowan. The service was officially decommissioned by MCI at 11:59 p.m. ET on June 30, 2003.

Service Offering

Electronic Mail

The service initially allowed users to send electronic text-based messages to other MCI Mail users. MCI Mail also supported read receipts and charge codes, allowing for cost accounting for email.

Later, the service was expanded so that users could send messages to non-MCI Mail users, including users on other public messaging services, such as AT&T Mail, CompuServe, and SprintMail.

Eventually, a gateway to the Internet was also provided. MCI Mail users were assigned an email address of either their MCI Mail ID @mcimail.com (e.g. 218-0241@mcimail.com), their user name @mcimail.com (e.g. bsmith@mcimail.com), or their formal name @mcimail.com (e.g. Bob_Smith@mcimail.com).

Several email software products were developed to facilitate email handling from a PC. These included Lotus Express, Norton Commander's MCI Mail utility, MailRoom from Sierra Solutions, Emma, and MCI's own MCI Mail Express and Express Lite. The email facility in Microsoft Bob also used MCI Mail.

Hardcopy Delivery

Messages destined to postal addresses were laser printed at an MCI Mail print site, placed in an envelope and mailed via the U.S. Postal Service. The cost was $1 to $2 per page. The service was attractive because there were few affordable letter-quality laser printers available to consumers at the time. Most consumers could only afford low quality dot matrix printers, which were not suitable for business correspondence. It also saved a trip to the post office.

The service also allowed users to select overnight and 4-Hour delivery options. The 4-hour service in particular was attractive as no one offered the ability to print a document and have it delivered in this time frame. There were a number of print facilities around the U.S. which offered this service. The most popular locations were New York; Washington, D.C.; and Los Angeles. At one point there was a print facility in Hawaii and they also ventured into the international space with a location in Brussels, Belgium.

The hard copy delivery service was later discontinued due to the high operating cost, the increasing availability of letter-quality home printers, and the increased use of email.

Fax and Telex Dispatch

MCI Mail also offered gateways to faxing called Fax Dispatch (email to fax, outbound only) and telex called Telex Dispatch (in and outbound).

Additional Services

Additionally, MCI Mail supported gateways to local area networks by use of its REMS ("Remote Electronic Mail System") addressing. REMS addressing took the form of {display name}|REMS:{rems name}/{network mapping on the email server}. For example, Bob Smith|REMS:XYZCompany/ntserver/email/bsmith.

Access to MCI Mail

Access to the initial MCI Mail service was provided using a 110-, 300-, 1200-, or 2400-baud modem connected to a standard telephone land line. The toll-free access number for MCI Mail was (800)444-Mail.

From outside the United States, MCI Mail could be accessed via local packet switching services that were offered by local telephone companies. Around 1990 access was also provided via Infonet's dedicated data network. MCI Mail branded this access service: MCI Mail Global Access.

Sales Channels

The service was primarily sold using a third-party "agency program". Agents were paid a commission on usage. One of these agents, Gary Oppenheimer, created what is believed to be the first electronically delivered newsletter. Called the PEN (Periodic Electronic Newsletter), it was published from August 1985 until November 1996, and provided both customers and many MCI employees with information on a few features available, as well as hints and tricks for using MCI Mail. The final edition of the PEN newsletter included articles on Concert Packet Switching Service for MCI Mail, MCI Mail Telephone update, Cellular Access to MCI Mail, List of Access Cellular Numbers, Logon Procedures, X.400 Access via Frame Relay, MCI Never Busy Fax, Mailroom/Mailplus & MIME, internetMCI software, domainTNG, Newsgroups/Lists, and Web Surfing via MCI Mail.

Technology

MCI Mail was a custom software application developed for MCI by DEC (Digital Equipment Corp.) Software Services organization, running under the VMS operating system, initially on VAX 780's, and by Hewlett-Packard, running under the MPE operating system, on HP-3000 computers with output generated on HP laser printers.

References

  • Manes, Stephen (1988). The Complete MCI Mail Handbook. New York: Bantam Books. ISBN 978-0-553-34587-2
  • Chan, Wade-Hahn (February 26, 2007) "Remembering MCI Mail", Federal Computer Week - an interview with Vint Cerf and Dave Crocker
  • Shannon, L. R. (November 9, 1993) "MCI Mail Changes The Nature Of Letters" The New York Times, Sec. C, p. 13

External links

  • The Official MCI Mail Blog
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