I caused Steve Dorner some embarrassment when I sent along a link to Gruber, who dutifully notified every single potentate in the Macintosh demimonde that Dorner had cancer. Steve Dorner created, wrote, designed, programmed, was Eudora, the E‑mail software used by only the smartest people.

I have a choice now to document why Eudora was better than anything you’ve ever seen and also publish my interview with Steve, or just tell you that you are stuck with almost the worst E‑mail software the world has ever known, your habits are appalling, and you have no idea at all what you’re missing. You simply cannot imagine how powerful electronic mail was when at the controls of Eudora.

My mental image has your mental image of E‑mail as a list in Gmail, with you top-posting like a fucking moron. You don’t know what’s possible; you don’t know what you’re missing. And if you top-post, yes, you are a fucking moron. Lots of them out there.

You have no idea. What you’re using is appalling. Your habits are terrible. One of those three facts applies to Eudora users now too, since we’re stuck using the same software you are. After 23 years online, it hurts. You guys don’t feel a thing.

If you don’t understand the value of Option-clicking or holding down the Shift and sometimes also the Option keys when issuing a command, you further prove my point. (Implication: Eudora really did not work for two-finger typists.)

We’re all missing Eudora. It hasn’t worked on Macs since OS X 10.7 and never will again. You can still kind of run it on Windows – a platform where Eudora was hobbled by the availability of one fewer modifier key, but still vastly superior to everything else.

What’s Steve Dorner up to now?

He and I talked on the phone back in February. I’ve been sitting on this ever since. Because it hurts, and I’m not exaggerating.

Steve Dorner and Papageno, a yellow-crowned Amazon parrot (probably female)

He’s cancer-free, as far as he knows, and probably will stay that way. He’s 52; he’s divorced; he’s got three grown-up kids; and he delivers his words with exuberance.

Is it wildly ironic that even Steve Dorner cannot run Eudora anymore?

“Um…. no, it’s not, and the reason it’s not is people developed this feeling that E‑mail was a burden. And a lot of the sort of later development of Eudora was all about harm reduction, really. It was about trying to get rid of the incredible volume of spam… And, you know, people increasingly didn’t want to put in the time to sort things themselves, to manage things, to learn anything. They just wanted it all to be what they wanted without them having any hands-on.” Whereas Eudora defaults to showing you everything, letting you choose how to proceed.

He says an Apple employee told him the war is over and the visual designers won. So everything inside Apple is about visual design. The implication is if it looks good it really doesn’t matter how it works. This guy also said Job 1 for any engineer was to reduce the number of support calls.

“You see, what’s ironic, Joe, is that essentially I don’t miss Eudora, in part because my E‑mail life is very uncomplicated at the moment because I’m not working, and if you’re not working, E‑mail is just a transport for advertising and transacting a little bit of business.

“But the other thing is the whole experience for me was very fraught. It was both wonderful and horrible. And, um, so the horrible came after the wonderful. It was like being around a terminal relative, and as much as they were a matter of joy to you when they were younger, once they get old and senile and they’re dying, they just need to go. Put ’em out of their misery and go.”

Are you telling me I should stop being mournful about the death of Eudora? “I’m not telling you that. You can feel how you feel. I’m telling you I don’t mourn it.”


Contrary to rumour, Qualcomm, which had bought Eudora early on from the University of Illinois, had always treated him well, he says. (“I am very happy to correct that impression. I was not shafted by Qualcomm. Qualcomm did very well by me.” And actually, Steve worked for that company for over 20 years.) He doesn’t have to work anymore – “and that is a blessing – it’s a blessing, it really is. It’s nice not to have that pressure. On the other hand, I’ve been retired now for little more than a year, and I do look around and question why I’m not being productive.”

But he did go back to work for five months or so after his cancer treatment. Eudora had wound down, but Steve was running a group trying to turn new technologies into new businesses. “But a new business that’s a meaningful thing is a very hard thing to create, because it’s a very, very large company.” Tens of millions in sales “is a lemonade stand to Qualcomm.” He stuck with that for couple of years. “That became very unpalatable to me for a bunch of reasons largely to do with my own shortcomings. But whatever. So then I spent another year in another Qualcomm division doing something totally different. And then there was a budgetary crunch in that division and they said, ‘Look, you know, we really – we don’t have work for you at this point.’ ” At that point I had decided ‘OK, this is enough, I’m done.’ ”

This is what happens when you expect top-posting

“My son has a friend who is a freelance programmer, and he’s pretty darned good and he has never really felt the need to have an actual job, which is kind of interesting…. But he is absolutely top-notch, which is another case of our increasingly winner-take-all society, right? […] One of the things we do is go sailing… and so we arranged to go sailing together.” Steve went down to the dock at the appointed time “and he wasn’t there!”

I interrupted him like an excited schoolboy. “That’s because you said ‘Great, see you then!’ under his message, right? And he literally couldn’t see that in his shitbox Gmail, could he? Could he‽ ” Yes! That’s what happened! (Though Steve was annoyed at me for kneecapping his anecdote.) His son’s friend was “looking at some summary listing and it just decided there was no content at all in the message because everybody top-posts, right?”

But in this unusual case, do you agree there’s no harm in top-posting a yes? “It’s just wrong! It’s just incorrect!” he blurted after a long pause whose silence communicated great disappointment in me and a stepping-back to avoid an argument. He then went on to describe such arguments: “I would have these people working for me explain to me very carefully how stupid I was not top-posting…. ‘Little child, I’ve been through this argument for a long time and you’re not saying anything new. Go away.’ ”

I take from this that, yes, there really is a fiercer foe of top-posting than me. It’s working out great for us.

Don’t we have phishing solely and exclusively as a result of the use of HTML mail?

“I don’t entirely agree with you on that one.” Steve thinks rich-text mail is a good thing. (Eudora actually started out with exactly that – rich-text mail, not HTML. And you had all sorts of control over which format to use, globally and per message.) Given the fact the Internets are based on HTML, “it seems reasonable to reuse that machinery to make rich-text E‑mail. The real problem, in my mind, is the fact that clear-text URLs are turned into links by the senders rather than the recipients…. But if the URL comes in and your client turns it into a link, then your client has control over what is linked to. And it can make smarter decisions.” In Mac Eudora, a sender-created link was coloured differently from a recipient link.

The Internet is not being used by computer scientists anymore “and a lot of what is in the basic DNA of the Internet assumes more competence than the 80th, 90th percentile” of the user base has.

Also missing in systems now – “deliberately” – are flexibility and customizability. Look at Preference dialogues “and see how smaller they get with every single iteration.” With Eudora, “my test audience was a very small group of very competent users,” so his bias is toward assuming everyone twiddles the many available features. (What I’m saying is if you give people all those features, they’ll use them!)

“Wozniak was a Eudora user for the longest time,” Steve says. People gave Wozniak shit for it. He used Eudora, Steve says Woz replied, “because I can put anything on the damn toolbar.” Eudora could put any menu item with any modifier combination into a toolbar button. Now nothing else can or will. The message from today’s software, Steve says, is “You do that a lot? Too darned bad. Not gonna go on the toolbar.”

Steve Dorner: Still undead, and your E‑mail still sucks.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2015.07.04 10:29. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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