E-mail: Where It's Going


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E-mail is mutating, and within five years will both recede into a background of ubiquity and blend with an even wider range of collaborative functions, according to predictions made by a messaging research firm.

While e-mail is increasingly encompassing technologies once not associated with simple text messaging, it's also becoming fuzzy around the edges, said Jeff Ubois, an analyst with Ferris Research, which specializes in covering e-mail and collaborative markets.

"E-mail functionality is receding into the background as a service available within many applications," Ubois said in an e-mailed statement. "E-mailing from other Microsoft Office applications and most browsers are obvious examples. E-mail is thus becoming a standard service that is always on, and always available, much like printing is."

While today's definition of 'e-mail' takes into account once-separate technologies that range from file transfer, group scheduling, task management, and instant messaging, tomorrow's will include even more collaborative features.

In the next five years, said Ubois, e-mail will encompass everything from brawnier publishing skills and rights management to compliance tools and identity management.

Mailing lists, for example, which have been around for years -- albeit typically run as separate applications on servers -- will give way to services that better resemble Web publishing. "Clients will include richer subscription management tools," he predicted, and offer ways to move e-mail content, including attached files, to Web logs -- known as blogs -- for up-to-date posting of internal enterprise information.

Content, spam, and virus filtering are quickly becoming standard in corporate e-mail systems, although not always part and parcel of a vendor's own offering, but added on by deploying third-party solutions. Microsoft, for instance, has yet to provide its own anti-spam filtering technology for its Exchange 2003 mail server, although it will roll out an add-on early in 2004. Look for more such integrated solutions from the major e-mail vendors in the coming years.

Encryption, while slow to catch on, will be driven by regulatory compliance requirements, and should see some traction, he said, while rights management services -- where e-mail senders can specify who sees what, and what can be done with attached files -- will also become more common.

Compliance, which has garnered lots of attention this year as the first deadline for complying with Sarbanes-Oxley approaches in 2004, is another area where e-mail is destined to be different, said Ubois.

"E-mail messages have become corporate records," he said. "There is now an urgent need for tools that can manage records -- their collection, distribution, storage, search, and disposal."

Ubois also expects that e-mail will become increasingly blended with conferencing software -- where those systems both include e-mail features and tie in with existing enterprise e-mail. He also sees a broader reach for portal- and browser-based e-mail for those workers not tied to desks or equipped with computers or thin clients.

"This growth in functionality will lead to new metaphors for how we describe open, distributed, large-scale collaborative systems," Ubois said. "Just as cars are no longer 'horseless carriages,' the term 'electronic mail' will become inadequate."

This story courtesy of TechWeb.

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