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E-Mail (abbreviation for electronic mail), transmission of electronic messages between computers via a network. Millions of e-mails are exchanged every day—virtually every business relies on it and many people see it as their preferred method of communication.

For all its ubiquity and importance e-mail is very simple and has humble roots. An e-mail message is nothing more than a piece of text and the sending of a mail message requires no more than the simple attachment of this text to a special file, known as a mailbox.

The first e-mail message was sent in 1971 by an engineer named Ray Tomlinson, one of the pioneers of the Internet. He showed how a messaging facility that could be used by several users on a single computer could be extended so that it worked between a number of computers. Tomlinson decided that the @ sign should be used to designate the receiving machine, and so e-mail as we know it was born.

Practical e-mail systems have only a few, simple components. At the user end is a piece of software known as an “e-mail client”; Microsoft Outlook, Eudora, Pegasus, and Web-based clients such as America Online Inc. (AOL's) e-mail reader are familiar examples. The client allows the user to create mail messages, to view the contents of the mailbox, and to read incoming mail.

At the other end from the client is the e-mail server. This is a computer, typically one provided by an Internet Service Provider, that is dialled up when messages are sent and received. The server has a list of e-mail accounts, each of which has a text file where all of the messages for that account are stored.

To send an e-mail, a message is created using the client and is sent to the server. The server forwards the message to the computer that hosts the mailbox of the intended recipient. To receive e-mail, the user simply logs on to the e-mail server, which presents a set of message headers to the client. These headers provide information as to who sent the message and when it was sent.

There are two protocols that govern how real e-mail systems work. The first is SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol), which handles outgoing mail. The other is POP3 (Post Office Protocol), which handles incoming mail, simply appending incoming messages to a user’s file. SMTP “listens” for any attached clients who want to send messages on the server’s well-known port number 25, while POP3 listens for messages addressed to one of its clients on port 110.

E-mail messages get from one server to another in exactly the same way that any other information traverses the Internet. A program called “sendmail” is used to queue outgoing messages so if a network link is broken, the message will be re-sent until it gets through.

Despite the fact that e-mail only works for text, a variety of file types (for instance, images, sounds, spreadsheets, and so on) can be attached. A program called “uuencode” turns all attachments into text so that they can be transmitted across a network. When the message (which could be some words plus an attachment rendered into text by uuencode) is received, the client invokes “uudecode” to restore the original.

Contributed By:
Mark Norris

Microsoft ® Encarta ® Encyclopedia 2003. © 1993-2002 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Mobile Phone

Mobile Phone
Mobile (cellular) phones have become invaluable for people who need to stay in touch while on the move. Cellular telephone systems combine radio and television technology with computer systems. As a caller moves from one geographical cell (the name given to a specific part of the area being covered by the system) to another, computers in switching offices transfer calls among variously located antenna transmitters without interrupting service.
Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 2003. © 1993-2002 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Text Messaging

Text Messaging, method of communication allowing cellular, or mobile, phone users to exchange brief notes, typically up to 160 characters in length. In the United Kingdom alone, nearly 2 billion text messages are sent every year.

The huge popularity of text messaging is remarkable considering that the service was developed by mobile operators in the early 1990s as something of an afterthought and was never expected to take off.

The main reason for its success is that younger phone users have adopted text messages as their preferred means of communication. Early concerns over the clumsy means of entering text and the limited length of messages have been overcome partly by familiarity and partly by a shorthand language; for instance “c u l8er” is an abbreviated way of saying “See you later”. A major factor in the uptake of text messaging was that it was free when pre-pay phones were first introduced. Even with messages now charged for, they are still considerably cheaper than mobile phone calls.

Virtually all text messages conform to the globally accepted Short Message Service (SMS) standard. SMS allows up to 160 characters to be sent from a mobile phone and received by another. It is also possible to download ring tones using SMS and to exchange messages with electronic mail and paging systems.

An important feature of text messages is that they can be sent at any time. The intended recipient does not have to have their phone switched on, as the mobile network will store a message until it can be delivered. Mobile operators have a part of their network dedicated to the storage and delivery of text messages.

Contributed By:
Mark Norris

Microsoft ® Encarta ® Encyclopedia 2003. © 1993-2002 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.