Email has been part of our life for so long that it’s hard to remember a time when email was not pervasive and available on so many devices in so many forms. But there was a time when email access was confined to senior people or those who “had the need”. I was reminded about this when David Sengupta, a fellow MVP and the organizer of the Exchange track for “The Experts Conference” told me that he is also a Curator of the Museum of eMail & Digital Communications.
Apparently the Museum is dedicated to capturing the reasons why email has become so important for human communications. It is backed by Ferris Research, a well-respected research company that has worked in the email field for many years.
In any case, I was asked to write a brief note about my experiences for the museum and chose to write about some of my memories of ALL-IN-1 (see below). You can go to the Email Museum web page to sign up for newsletters that contain other articles about how email has contributed to the world in which we live today.
Memories of ALL-IN-1
My first exposure to enterprise email was in the form of CP/OSS in 1982. CP/OSS stood for the “Charlotte Package of Office System Services”. It was a form-driven Office Automation (OA) solution developed by the engineers who worked in the Charlotte, NC office of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) and offered subsystems for EM (Electronic Mail), WP (Word Processing), and CM (Calendar Management). CP/OSS was the first human-friendly interface to email that I had ever seen and was a world apart from the command-line interfaces of tools such as VAXmail and UNIX mail.
DEC saw the value in CP/OSS and made it a corporate offering under the name ALL-IN-1 with its first release (Version 1.1) appearing in late 1982. Because of its user-friendliness and the ease in which you could use ALL-IN-1 as an integration platform for other products, ALL-IN-1 became one of DEC’s most successful products and had well over 5 million users by early 1990. This doesn’t sound very many users in terms of the hundreds of millions of people that connect to services such as Gmail and Hotmail today, but it was pretty impressive at a time when computer hardware and software was much more expensive and people simply didn’t have access to a service like email unless they had a very obvious business need.
ALL-IN-1 went through many ups and downs during its time. The major advances that I remember include:
- First email system to boast a voice mail integration with ALL-IN-1 V2.0/DECtalk Mail Access (1984-85). When provoked, DECtalk could sing a mean “Moonlight in Vermont”!
- First email system to appear in multiple languages with ALL-IN-1 Basic European Version – BEV (1986). I have some not-so-fond memories of trying to debug an ALL-IN-1 problem across a 300 baud telephone connection for a bank in Helsinki. Things would have been easier had the bank not run ALL-IN-1 in Finnish
- Integrations with industry leaders Lotus 1-2-3 and WordPerfect along with DEC’s own VAX Notes and VAX/VTX (videotext) products in the 1988-1990 period
- Failed attempts to integrate ALL-IN-1 with early Macintosh computers and slightly more successful integrations with DOS. DEC bought a product called OATmail from a small company based in St. Louis that became PC/ALL-IN-1 in 1989. It wasn’t the smoothest integration that ever existed but at the time, working with DOS just wasn’t easy for VMS applications
- Distributed sharing with the ALL-IN-1 File Cabinet Server (FCS), first delivered in ALL-IN-1 V3.0 in 1992. The FCS made integration possible with DEC’s TeamLinks Windows (3.1) client to provide ALL-IN-1 with its first real GUI client
All products have their natural lifetime as technology evolves. I know of ALL-IN-1 customers who still ran the final variant (OfficeServer for OpenVMS) in 2010. Perhaps some still run the product today. What’s for sure is that ALL-IN-1 outlasted its competitors such as IBM PROFS and DISOSS. It was even seen by Microsoft as a prime competitor for Microsoft Exchange 4.0 during its development period in 1993-95, but I think that ALL-IN-1 was creaking at the seams at that time, largely due to some unfortunate management decisions and engineering investments taken by DEC when the product was at the height of its success. Those who can recall back that far might remember the fiasco called “ALL-IN-1 Phase II”.
Nothing ever quite replaced ALL-IN-1. DEC signed the “Alliance for Enterprise Computing” with Microsoft in 1995 and began the push to support Windows NT and its applications. That, allied to the huge losses that eventually forced DEC into the hands of Compaq in the 1998 acquisition, meant that ALL-IN-1 moved into the side-street of corporate hubris. It was unloved and forgotten by management, but fondly remembered by anyone who had the pleasure of figuring out what the separation of form and function really meant in the minds of the ALL-IN-1 developers.