Just for the record, when this Unfrozen Caveman bitches about the horrors of the world, it is not without recognition of my culpability.
Montulli and Weissman also deserve a portion of the blame, but I was the one who ran with it, so I'm sure they'd be happy to let me fall on that sword.
Date: Thu, 25 Aug 2011 20:01:22 -0700
From: Jamie Zawinski <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: HTML e-mail: is it your fault?
Mime-Version: 1.0 (Apple Message framework v1084)
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii
X-Mailer: Apple Mail (2.1084)
Date: Thu, 25 Aug 2011 14:45:13 -0700
From: Andrew Gray <adsgray@...>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=us-ascii
User-Agent: Mutt/1.5.20 (2009-08-17)
I'm trying to figure out when HTML e-mails were first sent. Do you happen to know if the Netscape Mail and News clients that you worked on were the first MUAs to render HTML?
This question is in the context of struggling to craft an HTML e-mail that looks "good" in every possible stupid mail program that anyone could possibly still be using in the year 2011.
You know, my gut reaction is that the answer to this question is "no", but after some digging, I have yet to find any evidence of a mail reader that can display inline HTML messages (email or USENET) that predates Netscape 2.0!
If you find out for sure, please let me know!
I think there may have been closed systems inside Compuserve and Outlook that supported rich text messages (in formats other than HTML).
The Andrew Message System at CMU and MIT supported WYSIWYG rich messages, including inline images and audio attachments, as early as 1985. Not HTML or MIME, but a predecessor to MIME, as the architect of that was Nathaniel Borenstein who wrote the first MIME RFC.
My other project is a time machine of course. First application: preventing HTML e-mail from ever happening.
Yeah, go back to chipping your USENET posts out with a piece of flint, why don't you.
Even if it wasn't the first, Netscape Mail was probably the first mail reader that put the ability to easily *view* HTML messages in front of more than a million users.
I know that Eudora 4 supported display of HTML email, and possibly composition of it, but I'm not sure when that was released.
[Update: it was released in 1998.]
Qualcomm/Eudora spent a while trying to push text/enriched (RFC 1523, published late 1993 -- not sure when Eudora first supported it) as an alternative to HTML, but that went nowhere. Early versions of Netscape (at least 1.1, I think possibly earlier) supported display of text/enriched, but just about nobody was even aware of that because nobody ever used it.
We also supported display of text/richtext, which was an HTML-like SGML dialect with only a few tags. In 2.0b1 or possibly earlier. I added that just to placate the peanut gallery, not because I expected anyone to actually use it.
I think the only person who really used text/enriched was Brad Templeton through ClariNet, where you could subscribe to USENET newsgroups of the UPI/AP feeds that were formatted with it.
From Mosaic Netscape 0.9 through Netscape Navigator 1.1 (1994), there was a mail composition window which allowed one to attach external URLs. They were attached as MIME multipart/mixed attachments with proper Content-Type and Content-Transfer-Encoding (using quoted-printable to ensure short lines).
You could also "attach" things with "Include Document Text" which would suck them in as plain-text with ">" at the beginning of each line, wrapped at 72 columns.
There was also a USENET news reader and composer built-in. The USENET reader's display of MIME documents was remedial at best. The composition tool only allowed plain-text. Version 0.9 displayed any part of a message between <HTML> and </HTML> as such, even if there was no Content-Type header. That was removed some time before 2.0. Back then, you couldn't actually rely on a Content-Type header propagating through multiple USENET hops -- bnews would strip out any headers it didn't know about!
(Remember that 1.1's big innovation was *tables*. 1.0 didn't have 'em!)
2.0 contained the mail reader, with full MIME support (which was also a news reader, replacing the minimalist one that 1.0 had). So that showed up in 1.22b or so, mid 1995, I guess?
I believe 3.0 was the first version with WYSIWYG HTML composition, early 1996. To accomplish that in 2.0, you had to attach an HTML file. If there was only one attachment, it was sent as the single MIME part.
Forwarded messages were attachments of type message/rfc822 and included full headers, which were hidden upon inline display. Nobody does that any more because now the world sucks.
There was the IETF MHTML working group as early as 1995. I can't find a working archive of the mailing list, but it was run by a fellow named Jacob Palme -- http://people.dsv.su.se/~jpalme/ietf/jp-ietf-home.html
Microsoft Outlook Express shipped in 2005 and did not support HTML, but later versions (2006? Maybe 2008?) posted HTML *by default* to both mail and news. This angered many. Outlook Express is also where the blight of top-posting originated, those monsters.
Here, this may be helpful too: http://web.archive.org/web/19990128073742/http%3A//www.cis.ohio-state.edu/hypertext/faq/usenet/mail/mime-faq/part2/faq.html
Also this: http://segate.sunet.se/cgi-bin/wa?A3=ind9606&L=MHTML&E=7bit&P=124821&B=--------------2F1C7DE14487&T=text%2Fhtml;%20charset=us-ascii
It would be fantastic if you could update http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTML_email with your findings.
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