so long, and thanks for all the fish!

Two days ago Mark Crispin wrote in imap-protocol:

I was laid off today. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a change to push imap-2007b out the door in release status, but the development tarball there is pretty close to my final bits.

If you have support requests for UW imapd, please send them to the Alpine development team at UW, alpine-contact at

It has been a privilege to work with all of you for the past 20 years.

— Mark —
Science does not emerge from voting, party politics, or public debate.
Si vis pacem, para bellum.

Why on earth would anyone want to lay off Mark Crispin, is a mystery to me. As a long time user of the UW-IMAP toolkit I want to thank MRC for his work and software, which solved many of my problems and preserved much of my time.

16 thoughts on “so long, and thanks for all the fish!

  1. Not completely true, re: obsolete.

    “UW Technology Vice President Ron Johnson said the increasing availability of free or low-cost services on the Web through companies such as Google, Microsoft and are rendering some UW services — such as e-mail and document sharing — obsolete. He said annual revenue has dropped by $10 million, to $40 million.”

    The *services provided by UW* are obsolete. Frankly, it makes total sense, and if you haven’t smelled the coffee right now, it’s time to start sniffing. The internet world has changed massively since 98. As this document puts it:
    “In our world, for a very long time, it was a world of gurus. We were masters of technology, and we would provide it to other people. Now, people are masters of their own technology, and they just need some help. We are much more facilitators of technology now, rather than providers.”

    Also, “The UW Technology division is set up to be largely self-funding, much like a small business. It relies on fees it charges to faculty and departments. About 100,000 people across the UW’s three campuses and two hospitals use its services, including phone and e-mail systems.”

    So if the UW tech div is self-funded (so no free $$$ from the university, this is NOT GREECE) and people are using gmail, yahoo or whatever for their email services, the email service that the tech div is providing is a net loss. Hence, layoffs.

    On the topic at hand, I am confident Mark Crispin can find another (and probably better) job.

  2. @Thanos:

    “Frankly, it makes total sense, and if you haven’t smelled the coffee right now, it’s time to start sniffing. The internet world has changed massively since 98.”

    Interestingly enough the world has not changed so much since 1998. The users, the so called “masters of their own technology”, are still bitten by the very same problems and make the very same complaints. Sometimes the wrapper may be different, but the problems are the same. And since CS has a collective memory cycle of 20 years or so, it is not long ahead of us until we start seeing the problems of the 90s and their solutions; only slightly repackaged.

    The fact of the matter is that MRC through his work while at UW really changed the way we think about email (== IMAP) in ways that Yahoo! Mail and Gmail never did.

    On the topic of whether MRC wants to even look for a new job, I am thinking that it is more probable that he will retreat to his wilderness land in Alaska.

  3. Actually, it has. In 98, there was a big reliance in, as the UW tech director put it, “gurus” that were masters of technology. Now, there are corporate behemoths (google) that have changed the rules of the game.

    The linked article says it all. Think about it: why would revenue fall by 10M (20%) if people *still* were using/wanted local email services (that they have to PAY FOR)? In terms of supply and demand, there is not enough demand anymore for those services, provided at a local and non-free level. Instead, the cheaper (not necessarily better, but cheaper) option of webmail has taken over.

    *Whether this is a good thing or not is subjective, and in the end, not so relevant*. The point is, the world has changed. As technologists (and contrary to theologists for example), adapting is part of our job description.

    And in the end, even to “change the world”, you need $. If your world changing endeavor isn’t providing enough revenue anymore, that means that perhaps the world changed already, and not in the way you were expecting.

  4. 1. And who runs the behemoths, if not gurus? :)
    2. Revenue fell because Gmail’s web interface is “sexier”. But then we knew about people’s preference in what looks better since before Windows 95. Revenue fell because their business model did not adapt, not the service they were providing.
    3. The world always changes in ways we never expect.

  5. We can agree that it was a business decision then. What I am saying is that the fact that it was a business decision doesn’t automatically make it a *bad* decision.

  6. We do not disagree on that (it was a business decision). But you do not just lay off Mark Crispin, even after shutting down the team that he was part of. You provide him with facilities to continue working on what he is internet-wide known for.

  7. Taking one commercial entity loosing $10M in annual revenue as a proof that the world of technology is changing… that’s a very poor proof.

    It might as well have been management which didn’t keep up and decided it’s easier to shut down than to look at themselves making mistakes. We’ve all seen enough management types doing that to know it’s a possibility. All we have is hearsay and guessing.

    Fact is: they gave up. Which is unfortunate, for what we had in this guy and his work. Google and the like may provide a free service and a bit of free code now and then, but here we talk about someone who gave us a *technology*.

  8. Partly. Basically IMHO it shows that they (NSW) erred twice.

    Other than that, we have entered an era where we are supposed / expected to outsource our digital life to the “big three” (G, Y!, M$) just because it looks cheaper for the next two years. And with nobody worrying what will happen if the deals go sour.

    Do we really want to outsource our data management to the lowest bidder?

  9. Whether we like it or not, webmail is a disruptive technology compared to more traditional email, in a similar (but much less pronounced) way that email was a disruptive technology to standard mail (For a detailed description of what constitutes a disruptive technology, I suggest you read “The Innovator’s Dillema”, if you haven’t already; it’s a very good book.).

    As to your question, the answer would be yes, if that would free resources for other more important task and if it would make the actual outsourced task more efficient. In addition, economies of scale help in becoming the “lowest bidder”, without necessarily sacrificing quality. Of course, things can always turn foul later, but as a short-term solution (potentially a greedy approach here) it makes sense.

    However, there is also another thing you should consider here: the lack of qualified technical personnel. The thing is: unless you can compete with the big 3 in terms of salary, the best talent will more likely end up there (in fact, they are fighting among each other to grab the best talent). So they can get both the best human resource quality AND offer a lower price for their product; which puts in-house development at a short & middle-term financial disadvantage.

    Again, as I said before, I see the reasons for those decisions and they make business sense to me. Whether they make business sense in the *long term* remains to be seen, but in times of recession, short-term cost minimization seems to be the order of the day.

  10. What really bothers me is this: You have a Public sector organization locked in a certain vendor. The argument is that it costs less. We both agree that in the short run it does. But this is not the case in the long run:

    The real scenario is what will happen when any of the remaining two comes along with a better offer? Will the public sector organization move to the new bidder? Are they willing to move / migrate data every two to three years? What are the legal consequences and delays of such a route? Do the users really benefit from such moves, or do they suffer?

    I have played this game in a public sector organization: When you make the transition, the old contractor is unhelpfully helpful. Why should they help anyway? They are losing revenue from you. They will give you any information you ask for, but not a bit more. Even if it is needed to make things work.

    As to recruiting the best talent, not all people work for money, nor change countries for even a lot of it. Some people (OK very few) especially in the public sector, work aiming to offer their best- which cannot always be offered via a corporate employer.

    As you have stated years ago: We do not have to agree on all issues. It would be terribly boring!

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