I’ve worked with email in some shape or form for more than 22 years. From 3270-terminal based clients, early text PC-based clients, Windows clients, Mac clients, Web clients, mobile clients, etc., etc. And one common thread I’ve observed is that email ranks up there as a discussion topic with religion and politics. You better be prepared for the answers you receive when you ask someone a question about email.
You might think that you’re asking a simple question to which you’ll receive a simple answer when you ask — “what do you use for email?” Uh, NO! The person will launch immediately into a discussion about their likes or dislikes about the email client they use. “Oh I just love Outlook, and I use it at home.” Or “I’ve been using Eudora for years, couldn’t live without it. My whole life is in Eudora.” “I use Entourage and I have it synching between multiple Macbooks and my iPhone.” And of course nearer and dearer to my heart are those comments about the love or hate for Lotus Notes. And when someone says they absolutely hate Lotus Notes, of course I want to know why! “So why do you ‘hate’ Lotus Notes?” “It’s slow.” “How much memory do you have on your PC?” “512 Mb.” Simply amazing! It wouldn’t occur to the average user that performance could be improved if additional memory were added to their workstation. And memory these days is cheap! Or you’ll find someone who used Lotus Notes R4 and based their opinion of the product on their experience with a product 12 years ago! Or “my cousin told me that Lotus went out of business.” WHAT?!
My point is that people form opinions about email clients and they seem to stick to them. What is it about email as a technology that makes someone form such an emotional bond? Is it because it is a mode of communication? Is it because their “life is stored in email”, e.g., that it provides a sense of electronic history for them when technology all around us is changing so quickly? Is it because they as individuals aren’t geared to handle change from product to product? Or do we as software engineers need to be more sensitive to the idea that email is a somewhat “religious” experience for the user? That perhaps users may like to think that the choice of an email client is personal somehow? Would customization of the client interface help? Or is it because one client does something slightly different than another? Maybe there’s a correlation between email client preference and political party preference? Interesting notion! What do you think?!