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America Online

Time Warner Finds AOL Email Inadequate 357

DragonMagic writes "MSNBC.com carries this article describing the woes at many of Time Warner's companies after AOL's merger, where the internet giant tried to migrate them all to AOL's email services. From crashing software and attachment limits, to missing and misdirected mail, companies such as Time Magazine had to go so far as to have hard copies rushed before deadlines by cab! Plans are now to retreat from this forced migration and return to the services previously held by each company."
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Time Warner Finds AOL Email Inadequate

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  • ...At least you can't complain about spamming.
    Maybe they designed an anti-spam filter and went a bit too further. :)
  • by wikki ( 13091 ) on Friday March 22, 2002 @11:07AM (#3207073)
    Obviously the person who sent out that decree has either a. never used aol mail, or b. never used email in a corporate environment. AOL limits the number of messages and attachment sizes. Only lets you save the files in "AOL" format. Folders are limited, and you can't create rules. It is made for the old grandma and grandpa to be able to communicate with their grandkids and send them pictures and other cute little notes. If someone had done just 10 mintues of thinking on this they would have realized the mistake they were making.
    • by great throwdini ( 118430 ) on Friday March 22, 2002 @11:12AM (#3207115)

      Obviously the person who sent out that decree has either a. never used aol mail, or b. never used email in a corporate environment.

      Obviously the person who wrote the above didn't even bother to understand the situation. From the particular article referenced in the Slashdot "story":

      The various types of e-mail software used by employees
      aren't the same as those used by America Online subscribers at home. Instead, the divisions customized AOL products, such as those from its Netscape unit.

      Emphasis mine, smartass.

      • I'm suprised that they had to migrate back. Since the Conglomerate was using custom software, why didn't they throw some of their umpteen gazillion dollars at the software, and make it work? If the email system is bulletproofed and refined, the benefits could be passed on to AOL's customers, increasing value for the service. It's sad to see them bail out so quickly on eating their own dog food.

        • Would you want an AOL, Hotmail, Yahoo, Goecities, Earthlink or other consumer mailbox for business e-mail. They are all targets of Dictionary spam attacks. I prefer something more along the lines of IBM.com GE.com Westinghouse.com Intel.com Catipillar.com etc. I doubt they get the volume of enlarge your (insert body part) now spams of the consumer ISP's.
      • While the CLIENT software may have been custom, it sounds like the SERVER portion was standard AOL. This would explain the attachment limits, spammer tagging, etc.

        Also, since AOL is planning on using a mozilla like system replaincing IE, and has been putting big bucks into continued Netscape browser developement, my guess is that the client software was netscape 6 based. Considering how stable NS6 is, coupled with the AOL server backend, it's no wonder the system sucked.
    • by TedCheshireAcad ( 311748 ) <ted@f c . r it.edu> on Friday March 22, 2002 @11:29AM (#3207241) Homepage
      This seems to be a classic example of if-it-aint-broke-don't-fix-it syndrome. TW's previous system seemed to handle their needs, and after the merger, they switched to AOL? Does anyone see the logic behind this? If you have a system that gets the job done without complaints, don't change it.

      ~my $.02
      • >Does anyone see the logic behind this?
        I can see some logic behind it. Rather than maintaining/supporting/upgrading X different systems across the various companies why not standardise on a single system. Now the choice of system to standardise on leaves a bit to be desired but the decision itself was, in my opinion, a sound one.
        • I'm going to coin a phrase:

          "Standardization is the last refuge of an incompetent CIO"

          This is from a company where the ultra-reliable sendmail servers were replaced with Exchange, which has been down corporate wide for up to a week at a time. All so that we could standardize on Microsoft.

          Hmmm, maybe it's the "Microsoft" part that really makes the CIO "incompetent"?

          I'll grant that there are benefits to standardization, but it seems like large corporate standardization efforts are driven top-down; nobody asks the users what they want or even what they need to get their jobs done. So the results satisfy some sort of CIO goals checklist, but the real result is that lots of time at the ground level is wasted. It's like top executives are allergic to feedback that doesn't come from Wall Street sycophants or something.

          • This is from a company where the ultra-reliable sendmail servers were replaced with Exchange, which has been down corporate wide for up to a week at a time

            You make me laugh. You work at a company where the sysadmins cant' get email working and you blame the CIO? Maybe it is his fault for not firing the "incompetent" schmoes that can't figure out haw to make Exchange stay up. You know Exchange isn't inherently more or less reliable than Sendmail it's mostly up to the people who run it to make it so. I doubt the CIO was admining your servers.

            It seems like large corporate standardization efforts are driven top-down

            So? Everything in a corporation is driven top-down. The guys at the top tell you what the goals of the company are and they set the direction and tone. They give you the tools and the resources and it is your job to do it. If you don't understand that you don't have a place in an enterprise environment.
      • Ironically, they wanted to cut down on licensing costs.

        I'm reasonably surprised they're not using free software, given their mozilla and their linux-client projects.

      • Well, I would say that the logic is that any company that could use it's own products and doesn't opens itself up to criticism concerning the quality of said products.

        If the executives at Ford don't drive Ford cars then what does it say about Ford cars? If Microsoft developers don't use Visual Studio, what does it say about Visual Studio? If AOL/TW doesn't use the email system that AOL/TW sells, then what does it say about that email system?

        So when one company buys another the new company has to try to use the products of both companies, regardless of the transitionary costs (e.g. Hotmail and Microsoft server OS).

        The (unforunately named) phrase is "eating your own dogfood".
        • While you're right that you should have enough confidence in your products to use them yourself, there are some differences between the email needs of a home user, and Time. Unfortunately, the Suits at AOL didn't realize this before they implemented the plan. If the 2% of email becomming lost was a real problem, rather than user mistakes, then AOL isn't even suitable for home use in my opinion, but I honestly doubt 2% of the email was really being eaten by the system.
        • "Well, I would say that the logic is that any company that could use it's own products and doesn't opens itself up to criticism concerning the quality of said products [...] If AOL/TW doesn't use the email system that AOL/TW sells, then what does it say about that email system?"

          It says that their products are appropriate for their intended consumer audience and not necessarily for everyone. AOL markets to the low end, the new user, and their product is perfectly appropriate to that user. It is not nearly appropriate for business use.

          I used to work at Kraft Foods, and I assure you that at company headquarters the cafeteria does not serve Minute Rice, Stove Top stuffing, or Oscar Mayer wieners.

        • Interestingly enough, I was told by a lead in the IE team that no one in Microsoft ever used MFC. That was strictly for export only.
    • An unspoken factor is having a AOL account is the same as a Hotmail, Yahoo, Earthlink or other major consumer ISP account. They are all the targets of spammers dictonary attacks. How much junk did they start getting that diluted the content of their mailboxes. At work we have a business E-mail server. It takes no consumer subscriptions. This alone reduces the spam content. The corporate wrath and mail admin make spamming corporations a waste of time and a legal risk with few rewards.
  • by sheldon ( 2322 ) on Friday March 22, 2002 @11:07AM (#3207075)
    AOL is gonna be really angry if Time Warner switches to using Hotmail.com. :-)
  • Why use AOL? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DrXym ( 126579 ) on Friday March 22, 2002 @11:07AM (#3207078)
    I don't know if they're using the AOL client or not but there should be no need for them to either. AOL owns Netscape and owns a share in iPlanet so there are plenty of "normal" email options to choose from both on client and server.


    Perhaps some overzealous manager issued an edict that everyone *must* use AOL even though it's email software is next to useless in a work environment.

    • by topher71 ( 234377 ) on Friday March 22, 2002 @11:29AM (#3207239)
      In order to access any sort of internal AOL functionality, you have to use the AOL client and login as a 'special' employee accout.

      I worked at Netscape and when AOL took over, they forced everyone, including Unix developers, to use the AOL client to get to HR forms, 401K info, corporate email, etc.

      Netscape had spent 5 years getting every sort of internal functionality on the Net. All HR, 401K, Medical stuff, email, directory, whatever, was _all_ on the Net. Then AOL came in and mandated it all go away to be replaced by the fucking pathetic AOL client.

      Now I'm pissed just thinking about it.

      (BTW, I worked for AOL for 2 weeks.)
  • by lysurgon ( 126252 ) <.moc.hsojhsidnaltuo. .ta. .khsoj.> on Friday March 22, 2002 @11:11AM (#3207110) Homepage Journal
    I've always been somewhat mystified at the way AOL has been able to sell inferior services (slow service, high downtime, poor chat/email feature) to millions of users. Testiment to the power of marketing I suppose. On the other hand, that "community" stuff is a real thing...

    Of course, now that they're in the business arena where a few hours of downtime means more than wating till tomorrow to send that email to grandma, and lo and behold they just can't cut it. MSN has the same problems. No credible business can put up with their downtimes and outages.

    Now the executive level is beginning to understand how important these issues are. Someone could make a nice bundle of money by creating a credible business-class isp that doesn't suck (e.g. worldcom... generation d? yeah right).
    • AOL is crappy, most people who use it know its crappy, but its easy. ou putin the disk, it installs, gets the numbes you need, set everything up. That is why it has had the staying power it has.
      The community thing is important now, because there starting to platue, and there are more service that have relized most people want total automation, they don't care how its done, they just want it to be simple. Click mail button, get mail, read mail, go do something else.
      • AOL is crappy, most people who use it know its crappy, but its easy. ou putin the disk, it installs, gets the numbes you need, set everything up.

        This is a very insightful comment. I wonder when someone will put together a scaled-down linux distro that competes with AOL. You'd have to have the free dial-up numbers, but maybe netzero would be willing to make a deal in exchange for some ads or something.

        Imagine putting in the disk, answering a few simple questions, and getting AOL level functionality (chat would be over IRC, AIM, etc.) You might even throw in a simple word processor, spreadsheet, media player, etc.

        I know that $20 a month isn't much money, but I would guess that a lot of people would rather not pay it to AOL every month.

        Then again, who knows if NetZero is still in business.. :)

        • I wonder when someone will put together a scaled-down linux distro that competes with AOL

          If you've read the AOL/RedHat stories lately, you'll see that a number of us think AOL should put out their own distro, targetted at the older PCs families are now replacing. Something to turn them into an AOL kiosk, if you will, without all the hassles of putting out your own device a la the Gateway thing. Imagine the reduction in support costs when AOL owns the OS *and* the client? Done well, I'd give it to my grandmother. Anything to stop having to explain Application Execution Errors.

          Also, AFAICT, all the AOL dialup numbers are now PPP. Or so Windows reports a new PPP adapter with more recent versions. They've already leaked a Linux client for internal use only, so you know they've got some skunkworks going on.
  • Inadequate? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Indras ( 515472 )
    I've known about this for a while. My g/f just moved away from AOL because one e-mail she sent me took over a day to reach my e-mail address at work (which was asking me if I wanted to go out to eat that night, pointless by the time I got it).

    Also, from what I remember of my AOL days (back when we used the "mm[1-9]" and "server[1-9]" chat rooms for our warez), the attachment limit is 18Mb. Has this changed? Or am I just remembering wrong?
    • attachment size (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Flossymike ( 461164 )
      Not that I would ever want to defend AOL in anyway, but I belive that all ISPs have a mail size limit, over here in NTL land our mail boxes are 10M, and of course you have to be careful about how big you can really recieve.

  • by jht ( 5006 ) on Friday March 22, 2002 @11:11AM (#3207113) Homepage Journal
    Bob Pittman may be the darling of Wall Street, but their decision to dogfood themselves was the kind of shortsighted, Dilbert-esque decision that only a suit with no connection with technical reality could make. I suspect nobody ever bothered to talk to the people who admin the various systems that were replaced - heck, it wouldn't surprise me if the CTO (whoever that is) wasn't even involved.

    Even if they had switched in the long term, they tackled this project way too quickly (it's been just over a year since the merger went through) and it's glaringly obvious that they didn't think things through very well. Messaging on that kind of scale (multiple operating companies with differing hardware/OS standards, tens of thousands of employees) is not trivial to implement or manage and the suits upstairs should have either known better or had advisors to listen to who could have told them it was a bad idea.

    This'll probably wind up in a business textbook someday in the "how not to integrate merged companies" chapter.

  • by The Great Wakka ( 319389 ) on Friday March 22, 2002 @11:11AM (#3207114) Homepage Journal
    All these years I've said "the problem isn't on my end, it's on YOURS!". Now I have proof.
  • DragonMagic writes "MSNBC.com carries this article describing the woes at many of Time Warner's companies after AOL's merger, where the internet giant tried to migrate them all to AOL's email services.


    Later in the article....

    A better solution for your e-mail needs is Microsoft service called Hotmail available at http://www.hotmail.com, and it's FREE!

  • Classic Problem (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 4of12 ( 97621 ) on Friday March 22, 2002 @11:14AM (#3207134) Homepage Journal

    Funny. With tens of millions of consumers having to relay upon AOL email that their internal business units find it "inadequate".

    It reminds of the dichotomy you find between "consumer" grade and "commercial" grade items, whether it be email systems or computer hardware or even construction.

    Consumer grade has always been so price conscious that quality suffers, where commercial grade is always more expensive.

    Software shouldn't have to be subject to the rule of this dichotomy, though.

    AOL should clean up their act and put some efforts into adapting some open source email solutions to make them scalable to 1e7 users and to put on the shiny EZ front end that their consumers have come to expect.

    • Software shouldn't have to be subject to the rule of this dichotomy, though.

      Why not? There is plenty of room in the marketplace, and the demand to support it, for a wide range of software from the same category. Consider databases: You have your cheap-o MS Access, suitable for a few users. Then you have Oracle, suitable for enterprise applications. One is a consumer grade product, the other professional.


      • Why not?

        Well, once Oracle has been written, why not sell an Oracle-Lite to the SOHO market. Would it really cost all that much to do so compared to gaining a foothold in the low level marketplace?

        Maybe I'm overlooking the costs associated with bringing out such a broad product line, or intangible costs such as a perception of Oracle being a lighter weight product if a cheap version is sold. Some products seem to possess a certain cachet that is related to the fact that you must pay a threshhold price to get them, but I would figure that IT buyers would not confuse an Oracle database with a Rolex watch.

      • Why not?

        Because creating a cheapo lite version of an existing product costs MORE money in development costs. Once you've got your App developed, just sell it to as many people as you can. If you're only selling a "commercial grade" product, charge a high price to recoup your costs. If you're selling to consumers, greater economies of scale set in, and you can lower your price for EVERYONE while still providing the original, full-strength product.

        It's not like making cars, where, if you're building 20 a year they can be of the quality of a lamborghini, but if you have to build 2,000,000 a year you have to make some concessions to quality and you end up with something like a Ford Taurus.
    • well, not wrong ( I don't deem myself the ultimate authority)but I have to disagree. People want choices. They don't want to always throw the money at the 9.95/lb Filet Mignon. They like to save money. Same reason is why not everyone buys a DSL installs sendmail or exchange to have their own server themselves. People need options, without options peopel not only get restless, it starts to look almost Microsoftonian (see OEM market) or like the utility market.
    • I don't see what the problem is in saying their business shouldn't use the AOL client.


      AOL Mail is designed to be a *simple* consumer email program. AOL cut the options and kept the thing as straightforward and easy to use as possible. Most consumers are quite happy with this arrangement since it meets their needs. AOL is happy because less options means less support calls when a user screws up.


      I don't see any shame in Time Warner using another solution. AOL has iPlanet and Netscape software which is more than adequate for business. The challenge is getting the topography and uptime, which is more of a tech support issue.

  • by agrounds ( 227704 ) on Friday March 22, 2002 @11:15AM (#3207138)
    Not to undermind the braintrust of IT professionals at the Time Warner offices or anything.. but how could anyone firing on more than three synapses honestly find the AOL GUI-From-Hell to be a professional grade internet and mail delivery system? I can almost picture the hilarity that would ensue if I was to walk into any of my department or regional managers office and installed a mail application that featured more than four 'smiley faces buttons' and clicking on 'hearts' to access the company address book. By hilarity I mean: Termination Notice. It would only truly be classic, is when one of those poor helldesk drones plugged in the CAT5 to the wall plate, and the computer erupted into a frenzy of busy-signals and asking (politely, to be sure) to try a different wall plate.

    Tragic!
  • by cnelzie ( 451984 ) on Friday March 22, 2002 @11:16AM (#3207147) Homepage

    ...designed for the consumer market, not the corporate market. So, it really is no wonder that it was simply found to be inadequete for the needs of the corporate users.

    Of course, it probably didn't help that the reputation of people with the following addresses. (You know there is that stigma about people that use AOL.) :

    Editor_in_Chief_Time@aol.com

    Technology_Correspondent_Time@aol.com

    Enough of the fun though. This problem is not an isolated incident with AOL. This type of thing is how most large businesses are run. Someone high-up gets this hairbrained idea and then pushes it through. Regardless of how inadequete the technology is and how difficult the transition can be.

    I work in a situation similar to that right now. It used to be that the outlying vendors, of this major corporation, used to interact with ordering replacement units, checking on warranty status and recieving corporate memos through a satellite connection on dumb terminals.

    Now, someone has gotten the bright idea that they need to change from dumb terminals, to having full blown MS Windows machines running a web browser to perform those same tasks. These days, the time to perform the simplest task takes nearly three times what it used to (For both relearning and simply downloading nearly one hundred times the old amount of data.)

    The other major problem is, instead of dumb terminals that the end-users are unable to fiddle with. They now have MS Windows machines that they are responsible to maintain, which is the farthest thing from their mind.

    To them, the new stuff is hard, slow and a royal pain in the rear.

    Unfortunately, someone got a bug in their rear to push forward this great new technology. So, that is what is happening. I can see them going back to the way it used to be in about 5 to 10 years, after they "recoup" the losses in development and find out how much money it is going to cost them to have phone support staff handle the call volume.

    --
    .sig seperator
    --
  • Dogfood (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jjjpinkojjj ( 318040 ) on Friday March 22, 2002 @11:19AM (#3207167) Homepage
    I work for AOL Time Warner, and it was indeed, a directive that came from the top. We *had* to use Netscape 6.2 for all corporate email. Truth be told, the Netscape client is buggy enough, but the real kicker was the AOL email servers that we have to connect to... Unreachable perhaps 25% of the time, and totally unfit for professional use.

    Funny thing is, this Slashdot article is the first I've heard about switching back! Mega-corporation which will be crushed under its own weight? Naaa.

    I was getting sick of eating my own dogfood, anyway.

    • You mean that they never gave you that "secret" dialup number that we all know exists that will get you right in all the time? Man, sucks to be working for AOL-Time Warner...
  • by Ukab the Great ( 87152 ) on Friday March 22, 2002 @11:20AM (#3207169)
    To deal with this mail problem and not look like hypocrites, AOL will create a new proprietary mail protocol called ALPO (AOL + POP).
  • by tswinzig ( 210999 ) on Friday March 22, 2002 @11:20AM (#3207171) Journal
    What exactly constitutes "AOL email services," and where was the problem exactly?

    Mail being lost, large attachments not allowed, being classified as a 'spammer' if you BCC to too many people... that sounds like a problem with AOL's mail servers. But the article seems focused on AOL's use of their new Netscape products (presumably NS 6.x), which doesn't really jive with the complaints in the article...
    • by Jay L ( 74152 ) <jay+slash AT jay DOT fm> on Friday March 22, 2002 @12:30PM (#3207643) Homepage
      What exactly constitutes "AOL email services," and where was the problem exactly?

      I left AOL before most of this actually hit production. But when I was there, the problem was basically this:

      - Wrong tool for the job. AOL mail, as many have said, was not originally designed to be a corporate server. AOL itself, minus the Unix geeks, has used AOL e-mail via the AOL client since about 1989. But TW was using a big groupware server (Exchange or Lotus or the like), with forms, workflows, the whole bit. To change over to a text-and-attachment-based system was foolish; to do it in a few months was absurd. Many of us fought the idea vigorously, but in the end, the merger logistics team won the battle in the name of dogfood.

      - Worse, what TW was using *wasn't* our dog food - that was the AOL client and servers, which is incredibly reliable and instantaneous for internal mail, and pretty darn good for Internet mail in the past few years - average delivery time in the seconds. But what TW needed to use was the IMAP gateway. The developers on that are excellent, but have never been given the time to really mature the product. Some major architecture changes kept getting pushed back for more urgent matters, both real and perceived. And while the IMAP server speaks nearly perfect IMAP, no client does; we didn't have the time or cooperation to figure out how to work around bugs in OE or Outlook.

      - It sounds like they were trying to use the Netscape client. As we all know, that's a couple revs behind Mozilla, and even Mozilla mail doesn't feel quite ready for prime time yet to me.

      - Obviously, Gerald Levin didn't want to be GeraldL982341@aol.com, so we tried to graft an aliasing system on top. Sounds from the "misdirected mail" like it either didn't work out or (more likely) was prone to user error.

      - tswinzig mentions the spam filters; that's a good point. I can see how they might have caused trouble, and by commingling internal and customer mail, you lose the ability to have the best configuration for each task.

      - However, the message limits and attachment-size limits would NOT be a problem. Those haven't been actual physical limits in years; they they are business rules and can be configured as needed. (Can you imagine how many copies of Windows XP would sit in people's mailboxes if every AOL member could send arbitrarily-sized attachments?)

      It's a shame. The AOL core mail system is actually much faster, more reliable, and cheaper to run than sendmail (if I do say so myself). But by putting TW on before it was ready, and before the resources could be committed to make it a first-class IMAP server, they screwed both TW and any chance of getting respectability as a business e-mail solution.

      Jay, the ex-AOL Mail Guy
  • Ahh, just when I think Life is one big problem after another, something like this comes along and makes me laugh. The thought of those "genius" AOL executives who pushed this email switch down Time Warner's throat, sitting in a board room across a table from some very pissed off Time Warner executives, makes me smile. Thanks Slashdot.
  • Whats next? (Score:5, Funny)

    by jhines0042 ( 184217 ) on Friday March 22, 2002 @11:23AM (#3207189) Journal
    The e-mail problems have led many staffers to resume pre-Internet habits. Employees say they are faxing and using Federal Express more than before. They also are picking up the phone or wandering down the corridors in search of human contact. "If all goes well, we'll never have to use e-mail and we'll have to start talking to each other again," says one magazine writer.

    Some of the employees have even decided to spend time with their children reading books printed on actual paper. One employee has decided to start up a band with some of his cube mates. "Jim here and I have been neighbors for over 3 years and we used to e-mail all the time, but now that e-mail has become unreliable I've had to actually get to know him. He's pretty groovy."
    • Some of the employees have even decided to spend time with their children reading books printed on actual paper.

      Yes yes yes! This is offtopic, but very important: the way tech is currently being implemented is highly anti-experiential. If the trend continues, we'll all be in little boxes watching video on demand, secreting bodily fluids for the purpose of reproduction when necessary to refresh the stock.

      It doesn't need to be this way. Community online can become community offline. Information can activate (agit-prop) as well as pacify (television). Rock out IRL.
  • This article is rather schizophrenic. It first claims that the TW staff were forced to use products originally made for consumers. Then it states that they WEREN'T using the AOL email system used in the home version of AOL. Instead they were using "other products" from divisions like Netscape.


    So actually they weren't forced to use AOL email. Perhaps they were forced to switch from Outlook to Netscape email or some such thing. But this isn't as moronic as they make it sound - it's not that they switched their entire business over to AOL email. They just switched mail client programs forcefully from one that works to one that didn't work well. To be perfectly honest, Netscape email has never been too great, and it doesn't have the features for the office environment that Outlook or other "groupware" email clients have (scheduling, calendaring, task management).


    Clearly if they were using a recent version of Mozilla, they'd probably be using a good web browser with decent email facilities. But god knows, I wouldn't force the use of Netscape anything for email in a corporate environment.


    So fine, they made a mistake, clearly they weren't paying attention to the needs of email systems in a corporate environment, but they weren't making people use AOL mail, for god's sake.

  • by Jin Wicked ( 317953 ) on Friday March 22, 2002 @11:24AM (#3207196) Homepage Journal

    When I got my first computer, I signed up for AOL because one of my friends had it and it was the only ISP I had heard of. (This was about five years ago, I was 17, so cut me some slack.:)

    I can honestly say that of all the things that eventually irritated me about AOL, the mail has to be the absolute worst. I don't know if they'll allow you to download it with a seperate program now, but when I had it you had to get the mail in the provided portion of the AOL...um... desktop? I'm not sure what to call it, since it took up most of my screen all the time.

    Anyway, I'm not surprised about misdirected and deleted mail. AOL would delete old mail at its own discretion after a certain length of time, and anything I wanted to save I had to manually cut and paste as a text file because there was no good, clean way of backing anything up. The fact that AOL mail reads HTML by default is terrible; the fact that it doesn't educate the users or explain to them the concept of HTML mail is even worse -- half the things you get from other AOL members are yellow text on a hot pink background just as bad as any poorly made Geocities page (they even let you use images as backgrounds for mail). The fonts and colours may or may not show up when sending the mail to addresses outside AOL. The "unsend" feature is just a bad idea all around. I remember being frustrated with the attachment limits when trying to send ZIP files of artwork to my friends. One of the most irritating things at the time was that AOL refused to open/read many MIME types of attachments, so when someone not on AOL sent me a file, nine times out of ten I couldn't open it.

    I fail to see how AOL mail could be useful to anyone except the most basic internet users. I also fail to see how anyone with any amount of intelligence could think it capable of being used for anything more. I, by no means, use e-mail at any kind of a "corporate" level (I get maybe two dozen messages a day at the most), and it wasn't even adequate for my purposes.

  • by qurob ( 543434 ) on Friday March 22, 2002 @11:24AM (#3207199) Homepage


    We have actually been setting up some Sun Enterprise 280R's this week to solve this problem...

    The thing is, EVERYONE here knew this was going to happen, but office politics are to blame.
  • by JoeShmoe ( 90109 ) <askjoeshmoe@hotmail.com> on Friday March 22, 2002 @11:25AM (#3207207)
    From the article "The reversal is particularly awkward for Robert Pittman, AOL Time Warner's co-chief operating officer, who had pushed through the move to use AOL's e-mail."

    How many people here thing that Mr. Pittman ever had a problem with his AOL mail? I'd bet dollars to pesos that anyone at AOL with a capital "C" in their title has their e-mail running off their own custom-built server.

    This was literally the case for one fortune 500 company I contracted for. The CEO/CIO/CFO had their own Compaq Proliant server fully loaded (for the time). It was segregated from the other machines and was constantly watched by at least one Network Engineer. The rest of the company was subjected to constant crap in switching from AT&T outsourcing of e-mail service to in-house properly deployed UNIX solution, then someone falling for the Netscape sales pitch and switching to that, then Microsoft saving us from Netscape by bringing in Exchange, then ended up having Exchange do the mail but Netscape do the directory services...etc.

    But the top right wing with all the mahogany furniture never once had a problem with their e-mail. Because of the aforementioned dedicated server which, as far as I know, was running the original UNIX solution and never got touched.

    The problem is that this solution can't be applied on a large scale. I think the Steve Case and company probably have (knowingly or unknowingly) been the victims of executive shielding. The people whose jobs rely on their satisfaction would be fools not to. But then along comes some Time Warner company. The AOL brass aren't going to recommended Executive Shielding because they probably don't know about it. The AOL techies doing the shielding aren't going to tell their Time Warner opposites because they don't report to Time Warner. And the Time Warner techies are going to walk naively into the situation and get their asses blamed. But after a year of fired techies you eventually figure out that maybe the problem isn't the staff, it's the damn product.

    Well that's just my impression anyway. But I wouldn't be at all surprised if it were true. I wonder how many people at Time Warner lost their job because they couldn't get a square peg through a round hole for Time Warner management. They never knew the answer was to use one of those new round holes with four corners.

    - JoeShmoe

    .
    • by Jay L ( 74152 ) <jay+slash AT jay DOT fm> on Friday March 22, 2002 @12:35PM (#3207664) Homepage
      How many people here thing that Mr. Pittman ever had a problem with his AOL mail? I'd bet dollars to pesos that anyone at AOL with a capital "C" in their title has their e-mail running off their own custom-built server.

      How much you want to bet? It ain't so. They run the AOL client and read mail off the AOL servers, and have ever since AOL migrated off QuickMail around 1989. The problem is not with the AOL mail system per se, but with a total system that just doesn't fit together. See my post above.

      Jay "Chief Architect begins with a capital C too" Levitt
      • They may run "an" AOL client and they may read mail off "an" AOL server but how do you know they are the same client/server as what the rank and file use?

        That was my point. Many times executives are not aware they get privaledged treatment. They wonder why people complain about Help Desk response time since everytime they call the Help Desk they get someone there within ten minutes.

        It takes a brilliant and humble executive to basically force himself not to take advantage of the special treatment offered him. At the Fortune 500 company I was talking about, the CEO would eat at the cafeteria and would even sit down and have lunch with people from the mailroom. Just a regular ol' guy.

        But then all it took was for his laptop to freeze up once during a presentation and all hell broke loose in the IT department. Less than a week later, we had a new Director with a sudden focus on deploying Windows NT right now even on laptops which everyone knew basically weren't built for NT (power saving, USB, port replicators, all of them threw NT for a loop).

        So, I don't know. I still believe that at any major corporation the executives have no idea what technology is really like in the trenches, hence Executive Shielding.

        - JoeShmoe

        .

        • > That was my point. Many times executives are not aware they get privaledged treatment. They wonder why people complain about Help Desk response time since everytime they call the Help Desk they get someone there within ten minutes.

          Yeah, at my Uni there were always complaints about the campus shuttle bus service, and the clamor finally got so loud that the top adiministrators decided to "see for themselves" and arranged a date when they would all go down to a certain stop and wait for a bus. Can you believe it? A bus showed up almost instantly, and they therefore declared that there wasn't any problem.

          My own experience was an expected 45 minute wait for a bus scheduled to come every 7 minutes.

        • They may run "an" AOL client and they may read mail off "an" AOL server but how do you know they are the same client/server as what the rank and file use?

          Because I wrote the mail system.

          Jay
          • Because I wrote the mail system

            DAMN!!!!!!!!!
    • But after a year of fired techies you eventually figure out that maybe the problem isn't the staff, it's the damn product.

      Don't bet on it. Techies are easily replacable, they react in satisfying ways when you do nasty things to them (like fire them or yell at them), and they have a tendancy to say "Yes boss" when they figure out that saying "Yes boss" is a better survival skill than telling the boss exactly why his stupid idea is, well, stupid. And that's not to mention how technologically clueless many higher-ups are. (Think of Dilbert's pointy-haired boss and remember, Dilbert isn't a comic strip, it's a documentary.)

      Contrast that with computers that sit there and just silently, unblinkingly do what you tell them to, whether or not that was what you actually wanted them to do. They don't react at all to tantrums or threats, and besides, it has to do what the boss thinks it should be doing -- the salesman said so!
  • Eating your own dog food is definitely a Good Idea.

    Someone mentioned that they could use iPlanet and still be eating their own; this is good, but not what they're breading their butter with...

    Why wouldn't they appropriate some mail servers - running the same code & on the same platforms as their public servers - but keep them for IUO?

    This way, they're finding - and, with hope, trouncing - any bugs or general nonsense and instability, while at the same time, not subjecting their business to all the Herbal Viagra and natural breast augmentation adverts we've come to expect in userx093jr7@aol.com inboxen.

    S
  • by RobertAG ( 176761 ) on Friday March 22, 2002 @11:29AM (#3207245)
    From the article: "and if they [senior and junior executives] tried to send messages to large groups of users they were labeled as spammers and locked out of the system.

    This is BAD THING??????? This "feature" should be used as a management training tool.
  • by geckofiend ( 314803 ) on Friday March 22, 2002 @11:32AM (#3207258)
    When I worked at Compuserve they forced us to switch after the buyout. The rational was that by all of using it the AOL mail system would improve.

    Problem was that it never got better. Basic features of mail clients were discarded as not nessesary for the typical AOL user.

    And then of course they created the "IMAP" interface to their mail system. Except it was IMAP without any of the features of IMAP. Their implementation was essentialy a POP3 interface running on the IMAP ports.
    • by Jay L ( 74152 ) <jay+slash AT jay DOT fm> on Friday March 22, 2002 @12:41PM (#3207695) Homepage
      Their implementation was essentialy a POP3 interface running on the IMAP ports.

      Actually, no. The core design of the AOL mail system is, coincidentally, a near-perfect fit to the IMAP disconnected model, with unique message IDs, per-part fetching (text vs. attachment), efficient indexes to read less-efficient messages, host-based storage, etc. It is NOTHING like POP3. In fact, as I recall, CS begged us to develop a POP3 server instead of IMAP, since CompuServe Classic had one, and we declined.

      The main problems were that (a) some aspects of MIME were never fully integrated into AOL mail, and (b) *every single* IMAP client is buggier (wrt protocol implementation) than you can possibly imagine, and we never had time or cooperation to work around all the bugs.

      I'd be curious to know which features you felt were 'discarded'. Aside from POP3, I don't remember declining any strong requests from CS while I was running the mail team.
  • AOL owns Netscape, whose messaging server [netscape.com] has been used by several fortune 500 companies and very large ISPs. I'd be surprised if AOL had the kind of troubles being reported if it were to use the technology available right under its own nose.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 22, 2002 @11:36AM (#3207288)
    I have had my AOL mail account for months and never use it. No one in NOC does. Its an bother. And it crashes some other applications we have under development. How is that for humor? Turns out that the JVM AOL Mail uses is incompatible with just about every other JVM.

    And the other giggle. When a corporate announcement is sent out to the AOL Mail, one of the admin assistant's cut-and-pastes it into an email and sends it out to our everyday email account.

    If it wasnt for the free cable and RR acccounts....
  • BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!

    Everyone on the planet who has an IOTA of common computer sense knows that AOL's consumer services are below average. How did they think they could handle corporate email services?

    Even software like Outlook, which is specifically designed for this type of big-business structure, has trouble handling huge amounts of email (its not so much the amount of email thats the problem as much as the lack of security in the product. Oh wait, AOL doesn't do security well either.).

    Why on earth did AOL think it could scale up to fit business needs? The requirements of John Q. Local User are far less than those of Mr. Corporate. They should have seen it coming.

  • I think Nelson nicely summarizes my reaction to this news: Haha [geocities.com]!

    Xentax
  • by willith ( 218835 ) on Friday March 22, 2002 @11:40AM (#3207313) Homepage
    I'm not sure which is worse--that the employees were forced to use AOL e-mail at work, or that top level people at Time were using e-mail to send final page proofs that were apparently of a massive size.

    Do these people not have FTP? Is their IT department asleep at the wheel?
    • by Maledictus ( 52013 ) on Friday March 22, 2002 @12:17PM (#3207548)
      "Do these people not have FTP? Is their IT department asleep at the wheel?"

      Don't blame the IT people for this. An FTP site that is easily accessible by internal prepress production and the outside designer isn't a guarantee that anyone will have a clue how to use it.

      I'm the "IT guy" (heh...) at a mid-sized commercial printing company. We have an easy-cheesy FTP set up that drops the files right on our proxy server. We have a link to the FTP site from the home page of our web site. (Plus our domain name is...oddly enough...the one-word name of the company.) Even the most file transfer impaired have all sorts of options to get large files to us. We're even going to go to some sort of on-line proofing system. Bet that'll be a can of worms

      Can people get us large file? Hell yeah! Do they? Huh? Hell no! "What's FTP?!"

      The problem is usually on the designer/ad agency end. I say "usually" because the folks here are *paid* to be technically savvy. If they can't retrieve a file off of our FTP site or any other, they probably should look for another job.

      The outside customers get scared if you tell them they have to type in a user name and password. Or if you tell them that apparently *their* firewall isn't letting them out, they drop back to a safe position like...

      ...email.

      And even that can be problematic. Things that we think are simple - compressing files, especially fonts; naming conventions that make sense; resolution issues - become a Big Deal. On the other hand, that's what we're paid to do, troubleshoot, help, smile, be happy, offer fries with that...

      I for one am glad AOL-Time Warner is eating their own pooch chow. Now I'll have even more ammo for my whining AOL customers. "I'm trying to send this, but YOUR email server says it's too big." MY email server can take it, baby!
  • I couldn't imagine using AOL mail for business use, there are even a lot of consumers I know who are AOL subscribers refuse to use AOL mail because it is inadequate. From what I gather from the article Bob Pittman pushed this directive and he is far from technically competent. Steve Case brought him on board when it was just AOL because they were trying to foster a media conglomerate and Bob Pittman was well known amongst the press as the founder of MTV.
  • I do beleive that slashdot is setup to automatically reject posted stories from particular users, or maybe with certain things in the subject line. I guess it's how they handle the volume. So much for a personal touch.
  • A friend of mine told me about their woes with the new client. Aparently their tech staff couldn't even set their netscape client up so that it would poll for mail regularly which means important messages get delayed? Seems to indicate that the tech staff wasn't too happy with that switch ordered from the top and now make it look extra bad, so they soon can switch back. One department even dug out their old fax machine to get in touch with customers again.

    I don't understand why AOL/TW didn't plan a little ahead, made a case study and allowed for some time to do a smooth migration. This way it had to blow up in their face and make their own service look bad. But maybe this has the positive side effect that AOL works at the quality of their service. The bad thing about this is, that in the process netscape/mozilla also looks bad, when it's really not the software at fault.

    • I know it is that easy (i only wasn't sure if AOL put the option in some other menu in their netscape) so yes this is solely the tech staffs fault. But as i said, maybe the tech staff didn't want it to work at least half decent.
  • Maybe this explains AOL's interest in Linux? You know if Linux were to provide a solution it would be a marketing coup. As much as we Open Source folks like to preach to the choir we really do need to make some high profile scores if the public is ever to "get it". Love 'em or hate 'em, AOL is about as high profile as you get regarding John Q Public's awareness of the "Internet".
  • Actually, the Time Warner users complained most about the ubiquitous "You've Got Mail" voice that had been changed by AOL programmers to say "You've Got Mail, You Lazy, Good for Nothing, Old Economy Loser." And the fact that they now get AOL CDs via interoffice mail every two weeks.

  • ...but every time someone slams AOL, they're essentially saying "Go MSN!".

    AOL has been pretty benevolent so far - vastly more so than microsoft. They deserve to be treated well until they let us down in a big way. Because AOL is our greatest hope in the battle against microsoft. They can single-handedly win the browser war against microsoft, among other things.

  • our company had switched from sendmail freeBSD to ms exchange and we had similarly nightmarish problems...
  • by acoustix ( 123925 ) on Friday March 22, 2002 @01:34PM (#3208089) Homepage
    Is it just me or is this situation a bit strange?

    AOL is #1 in number of customers. They have the largest email system in the world.

    Time and AOL merge. No problem.

    AOL says: "Time, you gotta use our email system because we're the best. It will look good too!"

    Time: "Sounds great!"

    AOL: "We'll just take our existing consumer client and tweak it for business use. See, it is so easy, no wonder we're #1!"

    Time: "Uh, we can't send our large attachments which are vital to our company."

    AOL: "Oh, well that's because..."

    Time: "Our "tweaked" clients keep crashing too!"

    AOL: "Well, it wasn't..."

    Time: "2% of our emails aren't getting through"

    AOL: "Well, our system wasn't designed for this"

    Time: "How did you become #1 again?"

    I am pretty sure that this is going to tarnish AOL's image for being reliable. Especially since they've just gotten over the "busy-signal fiasco" of a couple years ago.

    If Time can't trust AOL with important emails, then how can AOL expect consumers to trust them with important emails as well?

    I like to think that my local ISP (or any local ISP) has better service than AOL any day.
  • My favorite expression for these kind of top-down decisions, that essentially come down to "because I said so!", is:
    "are we discussing this, or are we going to Tahiti."

    I picked up the expression from this John Soat column [informationweek.com] where he told a story about the GAP and their decision to replace Lotus Notes with Exchange.

    Gap is migrating its messaging infrastructure from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Exchange , a decision implemented by CIO Ken Harris shortly after he arrived at the company several months ago, according to a source close to the situation. Changing messaging infrastructure isn't easy, and the IT people at the Gap were hoping for some kind of explanation or justification. Instead, according to the source, Harris told the staff that when the captain of a ship tells the crew that they're going to Tahiti, the crew doesn't question the order-they simply steer the ship to Tahiti. "Going to Tahiti" has apparently become an oft-used phrase in Gap IT circles-i.e., when talking over strategy, people now ask, "Are we discussing this, or are we going to Tahiti?"

  • This wasn't the same AOL Email that consumers use.

    According to the article:"The various types of e-mail software used by employees aren't the same as those used by America Online subscribers at home. Instead, the divisions customized AOL products, such as those from its Netscape unit".

    So, while this really sucks for AOL, it's not as bad as some people think. On the other hand, I work L3 tech for a web host, and we hear almost daily from AOL (l)users about messages being forwarded to AOL accounts and being lost forever, or showing up weeks later.

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