Drop the word ‘Eudora’ into a conversation with any computer user and a heartfelt smile will probably spread across their face. As one of the first mainstream email clients Eudora really captured the imagination of early Internet users and it became one of the most popular ways to communicate on both Windows and Mac. But how many people do you know who still use the client? Not many, I would imagine. Here I’ll attempt to set the record straight on the demise of this much-loved app.
The rise to fame
Eudora was born in 1988 from the brain Steve Dorner, an employee of the University of Illinois. The program was named after the author Eudora Welty, because of her short story, Why I Live at the Post Office. In 1991, Eudora was acquired by Qualcomm, who released the program as freeware, making it one of the first mail clients to be available as a free download. It was a big hit on both the Windows and Mac operating systems, and well as some early mobile systems, such as the Newton and Palm OS. Eudora enjoyed the best of its success during the early days of the Internet in the early Nineties, when it was generally regarded as the best solution for sending and receiving emails.
Why people liked it
Aside from the simple fact that it was one of the first mail clients to market, Eudora owed a lot of its success to its simple user interface and innovative features. Both PC and Mac versions of the client were very small, meaning it could be run pretty quickly, even with large numbers of messages and mailboxes. The Eudora client worked slightly differently to rivals such as Outlook in that email was stored in the “mbox” format, which uses plain text rather than databases, meaning users could back up just a portion of their messages rather than the entire database – another great time-saver.
Eudora was also famous for its ‘Stationery,’ which allowed users to create ready-made messages or replies that could be sent ahead of time. There were plenty of ways to customise your emails by fiddling with the “x-eudora-setting” URIs.
All of these factors served to make Eudora the king of email clients during the early-to-mid Nineties and it’s estimated that more than 20 million people used the app.
What went wrong
Unfortunately, Eudora didn’t manage to maintain its popularity into the 2000s, and by 2006 Qualcomm had stopped development of the commercial version of the app. It’s difficult to pick out a single reason why the program didn’t strengthen its position in the email client market, but the fact is that it ended up being overwhelmed by the competition. At first it took a hit when mail apps started to be bundled with operating systems, such as Outlook Express in Windows, and Mail in Mac OS. Later, the rise of web-based mail services such as Hotmail, AOL and Yahoo! Mail took another chunk of Eudora’s user base. Qualcomm did try to stave off this threat by launching a eudoramail.com webmail service in conjunction with Lycos, but this proved pretty unsuccessful.
Although traditionally Eudora users enjoyed the unique traits of the program, by the time the buggy version 7.0 arrived many people had already looked elsewhere for an email client. People didn’t like the fact that the “free” version was loaded with ads, or that the HTML rendering wasn’t so great. Potential newcomers were put off by its multi-window interface, which made it a much less viable option than products such as Outlook, Thunderbird, Apple Mail and GMail.
Fear not though, Eudora fans, because the product is undergoing something of a resurrection, in the shape of Penelope, an open source started by Qualcomm in 2006. Based around the same platform as Thunderbird, Penelope is now being developed by the Mozilla Foundation, led by the former Qualcomm team, including none other than Steve Dorner, the guy who started it all. Althoug it’s still in beta stage, you can download Penelope as an extension to Thunderbird.