Great Circle Associates List-Managers
(July 2002)

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Subject: Re: MUA elitism
From: "Tom Neff" <tneff @ grassyhill . net>
Date: Sat, 6 Jul 2002 10:01:42 -0400
To: <list-managers @ greatcircle . com>
References: <20020705133452 . GA16281 @ gsp . org> <140594567 . 1025866741 @ sn-mrdnGW3-E0 . snet . net> <20020706123258 . GA3987 @ gsp . org>

"Rich Kulawiec" <rsk @
 magpage .
 com> wrote:
> On Fri, Jul 05, 2002 at 10:59:01AM -0400, Tom Neff wrote:
> > This is the kind of "assumption gap" that list admins need to watch out
> > IMHO. Many listmembers have little or no choice in the MUA they use on a
> > daily basis [...]
> I find this argument analogous to advocating that we should allow everyone
> to drive Corvairs because they are the only vehicles available to them --
> with reckless disregard not only for their own safety, but for everyone
> they come into contact with.

I find this counterargument perhaps unintentionally revealing, because in
fact we DO allow people to drive Corvairs, and lots of them take great
delight in doing so:

This kind of triumph of what ordinary people want over what some
self-appointed czars THINK they should want, is A Good Thing.  And so it is
with the Internet.

> Removing the impetus for people to use sensible email clients (of which
> a plethora are available) simply means that will continue to use
> braindamaged software like O/OE, because they can.  This is bad for them.
> This is bad for us.  This is bad for the Internet.  The only beneficiaries
> of this are (a) Microsoft and (b) the incompetent network admins who
> choose to provide Microsoft software because it is the path of
> least resistance.

Well, you go ahead and tilt at the windmills of convincing every
listmember's employer to change its IT infrastructure so as not to offend
the administrator of a hobby list that some employee is browsing on company
time... and be sure to report your success rate back to us at intervals.  In
my experience, you won't get anywhere.  And it's the wrong focus for list
admins.  We are not the nannies of the universe.

What we should be focusing on instead is "hardening" our own tools and
software so as to present excellent lists in a world where broken new mail
clients appear several times a year.  I have no patience with the attitude
that says "dear world, please use software that pleases me so I can continue
to be lazy and pass everything through untouched and still not cause anyone
else grief."

Every list should be MIME checked, virus checked, and spam checked.  That
should be our goal, not trying to convince the world not to use Outlook

> > What I call elitism is the "get a real mailer or get off my list"
> I hardly call asking people to please use software that complies with
> the relevant standards and which does not pose an active threat to other
> users "elitist".  Sheesh, that's a pretty low place to set the bar, and
> anybody who can't (or won't) clear that should go plug themselves into
> a network where standards, interoperability, and cooperation don't matter.

Thus proving that elitism does not always recognize itself!!  :)

> > Nevertheless, when properly configured (which almost nobody does) OE, at
> > least, can be used safely.  I end up stuck with it maybe twice a year
> > escape to tell the tale.
> I don't believe this to be true.   New O/OE problem are being discovered
> at a rate much higher than fixes are being issued.

Although I basically never use OE unless I'm stuck at someone's house or in
an Internet cafe overseas, I used OE to post this response just out of
annoyance at that "I don't believe this to be true."  This isn't a realm of
mystical BELIEF, it's practical computer stuff.  Every serious list admin
should TRY using the three or four most common mail programs, and become
somewhat familiar with how to configure them, in order to be of service to
members with questions.

> Merely attempting to read, understand, and patch O/OE to deal with this
> is a significant task.  (Doubly so given that some of the issued patches
> break other issued patches.)  I assert that it's far easier for J. Random
> User to simply install another, more sensible mail client than to deal
> with all of this.

Actually, if you do Windows Update once in a while, it installs the patches
OE needs if you have OE installed.  There is also a Personal Security
Advisor (mpsa) that is a bit more draconian.  Outlook Express is a bit of a
mess, yes, and if you use it every day without careful configuration and
other protections (antivirus, spam filters etc) you will eventually find
yourself in the PC VD clinic, but again, let's get real - any major list
admin probably has a dozen infected members out there at any given time.
Our focus should be on protecting our lists, not on wishing dangers didn't

> Yet when someone argues that a minimum standard for participation
> in the Internet ("don't use a mail client which is best known for
> its security holes and virus-propagation facilities") this is somehow
> "elitist".  It's no such thing.  It's merely the extension of this
> same reasoning to a new area (which we do from time to time as we
> invent new areas for ourselves).

Assuming that security vulnerability is a well-ordered metric, there will
ALWAYS be a "most vulnerable client."  If Gabriel's trumpet sounded tonight,
and every copy of Outlook Express and Outlook were vanished into MS
Heaven(TM), then some other MUA would automatically be the most vulnerable.
(It's like when the newspapers say World's Oldest Woman Dies.  OK, now
someone else is the world's oldest woman.)

Therefore, if we make it our mission to wean users from the most vulnerable
clients, THE QUEST WILL NEVER END.  Not that this would be a bad thing for
the professional crusading business.

> Look, I don't care (as a mailing list manager [2]) if people want to run
> Unix, Linux, MacOS, Windows, BeOS, whatever and participate in the mailing
> lists.  What I care about is that they do so in a way that reflects
> some modicum of cooperation with the Internet community ("don't spew
> all over the place") and some modicum of basic netiquette skills ("don't
> top-post, don't use HTML").  While it's remotely *possible* for someone
> running O/OE to do this -- in the same way that it's remotely *possible*
> for a highly skilled mechanic to modify a Corvair to the point where it's
> safe -- it's way, way beyond the reach of nearly everyone else.

No, you just show them how to do it with a FAQ in your welcome message.  And
you filter your list to protect yourself and your members.  On most of my
lists I could give a flying holler whether people TRY to send HTML or
binaries or such.  There are people who have probably been composing in
curly orange script for years and the list never knows it.  And you know
what, when they get their copy back or read it in a digest (a real digest,
that is) and it's in plain text, they NEVER notice or complain.  Because the
truth is that when you're focused on the list's topic, plain text is a zero
resistance medium.

> Thought experiment: what would happen if tomorrow every mailing list
> manager on the planet banned messages generated with O/OE?

That's easy: the number of lists (or Yahoo groups etc) would double in a
month, as offended members voted with their feet.  It is way too easy to
start a list these days for anybody to pretend they can enforce such things.

> [2] I certainly care as an individual.  Use of Microsoft products is
> both unprofessional and unethical.

They still make great mice! :)

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