PC LAN Email

Initially PCs had only the most rudimentary abilities to connect to other computers. It quickly became clear that different PCs in an office should be connected, mainly to share files and printers.

PC LANs (local area networks) started to appear in about 1980, where PCs were connected by cables and special networking software. Early vendors were Nestar and 3Com. Novell launched its Netware network operating system in 1983, and this enjoyed great success as the main method of connecting office PCs until about 2000.

Mass adoption of PC LANs began from about 1986, and an email system was typically installed along with the PC LAN. Initially these email systems were provided by the LAN vendor. However, independent software products quickly took center stage. Leading products included cc:Mail, Microsoft Mail for PC Networks, and Da Vinci Email.

PC LAN email worked as follows:

  • A file server acted as a passive repository for email messages.
  • User PCs did most of the work. They maintained the user interface, and were responsible for retrieving messages from their local file server, and deposing new messages in the file server.
  • To transfer emails between different file servers, a program known as an MTA (Message Transfer Agent) had to be run. MTAs would normally be scheduled to run several times a day, and typically they would email over dialup lines.

A single file server could handle up to about 200 email user in this way. Leading PC LAN email systems

By the mid-90s, it had become apparent that the file server approach to email didn't scale well. Servers had to assume more processing power, and move beyond being merely passive email repositories. Client/server implementations, such as Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes, thus took the place of PC LAN email.--David Ferris


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