Email fiercely, Harvard
September 30, 2019 4:56 PM   Subscribe

Which email client did Harvard use in 1995? Are there screenshots of the inbox and/or what an email would look like as it was being written?
posted by pxe2000 to Technology (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I was in college in 1995. Most of the universities including my also another east coast schmancy private university used Pine: "Pine is a freeware, text-based email client which was developed at the University of Washington. The first version was written in 1989, and announced to the public in March, 1992."

There's a screenshot (3rd on the list) that is basically what I remember.
posted by spamandkimchi at 5:04 PM on September 30 [10 favorites]

Eudora was in use around then, and I saw a note stating it was “still in use”in 2005 at Harvard in Inc magazine. It's not definitive, but it's pretty likely, at least for mac users (win 95 had just come out).
posted by jenkinsEar at 5:23 PM on September 30 [3 favorites]

Beyond Pine, Eudora was an increasingly popular graphical email program at educational institutions circa 1995. Here's a 1995 Harvard Crimson article that mentions it as an alternative to Pine, with official university support expected later that year. Here's a little video of John Markoff demonstrating Eudora on a Mac in 1995.

Netscape added a mail client starting with 2.0. That launched late 1995-early 1996, so it may have started to gain some users, at least with fairly powerful machines, toward the end of the year.
posted by zachlipton at 5:28 PM on September 30 [5 favorites]

If someone wanted to email from home, and had a PC with at least Windows 3.1 (Windows 95 came out in ... like, 1995) they first had to dial in with Trumpet Winsock (link goes to a university that still has a support page for this)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:32 PM on September 30 [2 favorites]

1995 article in The Crimson mentioning how fast PINE was loading in the upgraded system. Roughly what it looked like here.
posted by bluecore at 5:36 PM on September 30 [4 favorites]

I graduated from college in 1995 (not from Harvard!) and we used Pine for email. Here are screenshots and extensive documentation on using Pine: (I used Eudora later in the 90s, but wouldn’t even have heard of it as an undergrad.)
posted by kittydelsol at 5:49 PM on September 30 [2 favorites]

Just in case this isn't immediately obvious, though it probably is, people would likely be going into the computer lab in the basement of the Science Center (or one in a House) and telnetting into the Unix system ( or maybe something else for the real hardcore CS people?) and launching pine (or elm) on a session. In other words, the program was running on the Unix server, not on the machine in front of them. The transition to Eudora was starting to happen right around then; Eudora was more of what we would think of as a client today, an actual application you'd launch from your own desktop that would run on your own computer.
posted by praemunire at 6:05 PM on September 30 [9 favorites]

Just in case this isn't immediately obvious, though it probably is, people would likely be going into the computer lab in the basement of the Science Center

This is the sense I got from my reading of The Crimson too. Very limited dial-up support, complaints about it taking 30 minutes for mail to load at peak times, which prompted big overhauls right before 1995. An article I can't find again was talking about how most of the Houses weren't online until several years later, so it most likely would've been in the Science Center.
posted by bluecore at 6:12 PM on September 30 [1 favorite]

In 1999 Pine was ubiquitous at Harvard. Everyone used it everywhere: at the Science Center and other labs, in the computer kiosks (including the iMac G3s when those were introduced) and, very often, for personal computers and laptops.
posted by tavegyl at 6:12 PM on September 30 [5 favorites]

My ex from that time used Pine because the school only offered dialup to shell. Eudora was in use, but not all universities had external POP3 and I don't remember IMAP being supported much back then.
posted by rhizome at 6:45 PM on September 30

I fantasize about completely switching (back) to Pine’s successor Alpine, and university folk are still a big contingent of its user base.

Anyway, it works great, you could download it and hook it up to your gmail for an immersive experience that would be very similar in look and feel.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:31 PM on September 30 [2 favorites]

I used Pine at Harvard in 1995.
posted by medusa at 7:32 PM on September 30 [5 favorites]

An article I can't find again was talking about how most of the Houses weren't online until several years later

A couple of years earlier at the Other One the residential colleges had tiny computer labs of their own. My memory is of literally two Macs, two PCs, and a printer. (I used to play Doom down there until I was motion-sick.) I'd be surprised if there weren't similar facilities at Harvard, though I was a grad student in 1995 and so not frequenting the Houses, so could be wrong. Putting Ethernet into the dorm rooms was a BFD.
posted by praemunire at 7:54 PM on September 30

Across town at Boston College, a couple of years earlier, there were just as many Macs as there were VAX terminals in the computer labs, and I think we could use mail there, too....though I forget how. (I had a stack of 3.5" floppies that I brought in every time I went, bootstrapping from several diskette's worth of Fetch & browser & Gopher -- thanks to Compact Pro and StuffIt -- plus that JPEG viewer, and... What was I thinking?!)

Probably Eudora.

Which year did the Eudora feature come out which displayed zero to five chili peppers, depending how "hot" your email's word choice was? That was an awesome feature to help yourself not send an angry message which you would later/immediately regret.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:36 PM on September 30 [1 favorite]

Harvard in 94-95 had computer labs at the Science Center and in the basements of the freshman dorms (and presumably non-frosh dorms) where you could access Pine for email (that was the first time I used email!). I think by the next academic year I had ethernet access from my own computer in my dorm room.

Everyone's email messages had SO MANY signatures. Quotes from nerdy literature/movies/songs, mostly.
posted by lazuli at 8:53 PM on September 30 [2 favorites]

Hey! I was at Harvard in 1995! I am 99% sure I was using Pine. (I certainly was for years afterwards, and I know people who still do.) I was a graduate student and I believe that by then I had dial-up in my apartment and used Pine from a terminal window on my Power Mac. When at school, there were VT220 terminals in the math department which even then felt very antique, and a cluster of Suns which had fanicer screens and on which, at some point, you could use Mosaic. I didn't know any Harvard students who carried a laptop, though it looks like some models were already out by then.

Anyway, people mostly used terminals through the command line, so you would have called pine from there. People also used "whois" and "finger" a lot to see who was online and around, and "talk" if you saw someone you knew.
posted by escabeche at 9:02 PM on September 30 [5 favorites]

I was at Harvard Law School then and I’m sure I was emailing from my PC laptop using a dial-up modem. I don’t remember the program, but I very much remember using dial-up in my apartment for that and for online research.

People were beginning to carry laptops to classes, because I very much remember a professor walking around on the first day and gently closing the covers of those students sitting in the front rows and the rest of the class following suit.
posted by Sukey Says at 10:00 PM on September 30

The UC system got POP servers in 1997 and IMAP in 1998 I believe. And we were usually several years ahead of private schools, I am pretty sure I switched from Pine to Eudora in 1994.

Eudora was radical becuase you could download emails to read later Pine had to be connected to read emails. It was also wicked slow and generally primitive.
posted by fshgrl at 10:17 PM on September 30

From that linked Pine user guide:
Also, if the original message was sent to more than one person, you are asked if you want to reply to all recipients. Think carefully before you answer - it may be that you want your reply to be sent only to the author of the message. Warning: It is always a good idea to check the list of addresses in the To and Cc fields before you send a message to see who will receive it.

Some things never change.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 2:27 AM on October 1 [5 favorites]

Across the Atlantic, I can confirm that Pine was what most people at Oxford used in the mid-90s.
posted by altolinguistic at 5:43 AM on October 1

Pine or elm. And ytalk for real-time chatting!

Everyone's email messages had SO MANY signatures. Quotes from nerdy literature/movies/songs, mostly.

Ha, I wrote a script that randomly picked a different quote from a text file each time I logged into the system and made it my .signature.
posted by odin53 at 8:33 AM on October 1 [1 favorite]

I used Pine as late as the early 2000s at Harvard. It was still pretty popular then, to the point where I remember people recommending shell accounts at graduation so you could keep using Pine. i guess it makes sense; webmail was kind of garbage before 2005, when Gmail came out on an invitation-only basis, and I actually didn’t know that many people who used Eudora.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:45 AM on October 1

Ditto to en forme de poire.

(I wonder if we knew each other at all?)

Also, this question is a good way to get all of us to out ourselves, isn’t it?
posted by ocherdraco at 6:54 PM on October 1 [2 favorites]

If I TFed for any of y'all, I don't want to know about it.
posted by praemunire at 7:22 PM on October 1 [3 favorites]

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