The Dying Art of Plain Text Email

What is happening to email?

Once upon a time, email was nothing more than plain text that came to you on a blank screen in a font that could be read by just about anyone. Now two new forms of email have appeared. The first is mildly annoying; the second is wildly impractical for Macs running Unix shell-based Lynx accounts and dialup modems.

HTML Email

The mildly annoying email is nothing more than a text message with some HTML added to it. Yahoo.com and MSN are notorious for transmitting email in this contaminated form. The receiving computer will declare the incoming message as unreadable and suggest that it be downloaded to the Mac’s hard drive for further processing.

This HTML “page” can be opened as a text file. What one gets is something that looks like the following:

<html><div style='background-color:'><DIV>
<DIV>
<DIV>
<DIV>
<DIV>Dear Manuel,</DIV>
<DIV>&nbsp;&nbsp; I found your name as a volunteer and wonder if you might be able to help me.&nbsp; I would be forever thankful!</DIV>
<DIV>&nbsp; here is my problem: although my computer is old, I am a neophite and I was trying different things with my computer. I must have pushed the wrong button at some point because now, everytime I open a file and make some changes to it, when I come to save it, it will not save it under the same name.&nbsp; The message Save As automatically come up although I just want to save.&nbsp; Any clues?</DIV>
<DIV>&nbsp;&nbsp; I hail from Canada and we are having a wonderful day here.&nbsp; How about you?</DIV>
<DIV>&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Thank you - Danielle</DIV></DIV></DIV></DIV></DIV></div><br clear=all><hr>Chat with friends online, try MSN Messenger: <a href='http://g.msn.com/1HM1ENCA/c144??PS=47575'>Click Here</a><br></html>

Most of the characters are meaningless HTML code. Only a fraction of the transmission is sensible text. A laborious cut and paste “cleaning” produces the final product:

Dear Manuel,

I found your name as a volunteer and wonder if you might be able to help me I would be forever thankful! here is my problem: although my computer is old, I am a neophite and I was trying different things with my computer. I must have pushed the wrong button at some point because now, everytime I open a file and make some The message Save As automatically come up although I just want to save. Any clues? I hail from Canada and we are having a wonderful day here. How about you?

Multipart Email

In terms of the impractical messages that a low-end Mac can receive, these messages usually have four parts to them. The message will have an HTML file with the message, a .gif image, a .wav sound file, and either a second .gif or .wav file to close.

Since when does simple email require a web browser with all the plug-ins? For basic Triassic Macs – whose users still number in the millions – email is now becoming a decoding chore.

The size of these 4-part email message is also a problem. In some cases, the four files together bloat the email message from 4-5 KB to 100 KB or more. A group of messages this size can quickly fill an electronic mailbox to capacity.

The Dreaded Word Document

If the 4-part email messages aren’t bad enough, there is also the “harpie” of bad email: the Word document. Some of these documents are larger than 200 KB and carry messages that could be condensed to a mere 10 KB in plain text. I, along with other Triassic Mac users, usually delete these on the spot, because they take up too much server space – and they usually cannot be opened without a modern Mac.

The computer industry needs to be mindful of one economic fact: Most of the world lives on an income of $500 a year or less. Older computers have slowly migrated to other parts of the world and are now connecting these regions to the Internet. If there is to be a true global village, communication standards have to be maintained. Creating vanity email messages that can only be read by well heeled American computer users is not the way to do this.

Even in the United States, old Triassic Macs and other systems still abound. This is one reason why there is such a demand for sites such as Low End Mac.

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