Saturday, September 09, 2006

Why can't I print this email?

Why can't I print this email?

Many years ago (about 1990-1995) I worked at Bechtel in San Francisco. It was the kind of place that made you wonder if Dilbert creator Scott Adams worked there. So I will likely have a number of stories that are set there, if i can remember them.

Bechtel was a long-time DEC VAX shop, so we ended up using a lot of strange DEC products, probably long after we should have been. For example, DEC PathWorks, which was DEC's weird LANMAN-based NETBIOS over DECNet (Phase IV). We were also using the DEC email product, I want to say it was called "MailWorks", but I can't actually remember. A lot of their stuff had "works" in the name, I think they were trying to convince themselves. And this is back in the day when Windows wasn't a given, and we're talking Windows 3.1x.

So one of the executives calls the helpdesk, and wants to know why he can't print his email. We thought that was a little strange, since the printing generally worked well. We troubleshot the usual queue problems and such, and then sent someone up to see him. OK, so the problem turned out to be that the print function just wasn't there in the program mode he was in, which was the compose mode. In other words, he wanted to print the note while he was still typing it up.

OK, so why did he want to do that, we asked him. He said he couldn't send it unless he printed it out. Huh? Of course he could, just press the "send" button. And you can even print it out from your "sent" items, if you want. No, he doesn't want to send it that way, and he needs to print it!

After backing up several steps, the person finally gets the full story out of him. What he wanted to was type it in the compose window, print it out, and the FAX it to the person it was addressed to. That's right, he just wanted to use the email program as a word processor.

When questioned as to why he didn't just send it via email, he said that he couldn't be sure it got there that way. OK, so why is FAX any better? You can't tell that it got sent for sure that way either.

Yes you can, he replied. You can see the paper going into the machine, so you know it got sent.

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