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October 30, 2005


Embarrassment isn't what gets things fixed--money gets things fixed. There is probably very little value to the author of email systems to get out-of-office messages right. When you have to prioritize all of the features in a system, some things have to be at the bottom of the list.

I know that I would much rather have Microsoft's engineers working on better IMAP support in Outlook than on the out-of-office message feature in Exchange.

Embarassment might cure Sherman's Website, but embarassment can't do much about the SMTP protocol infrastructure. Many smart people have wasted countless hours figuring out how to deal with recalcitrant mail programs. Things like VERP-ed addressing, various X- headers, and reply timeouts have all been an attempt to limit the damage of OOF replies to mailing lists, all of which can be defeated by someone writing a procmail script that sends it's auto-response to the From: address instead of the Reply-To: or Return-Path: address.

Much of the spam issue could have been neutered at the protocol level, rather than at the (vastly more expensive) implementation level, yet the SMTP protocol won't be replaced any time soon because the installed base is too large. Embarassment has nothing to do with it.

Out-of-office messages have been a solved problem for years and years now. It's just that everyone seems keen on reinventing the wheel, and the overwhelming majority of wheel-reinventers turn out a square, proclaim "there's a hole in the middle where the axle goes through, so the project is now finished" and go home.

Come to think of it, the same is true for mailing lists...although those solved the problems you refer to a bit more mailing lists still had the occasional unsubscribe issue until almost 8 years ago, for example.

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