Mimecast marks 20 years of email attachments

Mimecast Chief Scientist Dr. Nathaniel Borenstein, one of the inventors of the MIME standard for email attachments, has marked the 20th anninverary of its release with an address on its impact and influence today. Mimecast provides cloud-based email archiving, continuity and security for Microsoft Exchange and Office 365

The invention of Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME) proved to be a critical moment within the history of email. With MIME, email has been able to mature from its original form of text-only messages, to what it has evolved into today – possibly the most important business tool of our time.

Creating and sending an email used to be quite simple. Users would create a text message and then send it to someone else. However, as email became more widespread, the function of email required an evolution and begged for an innovation such as MIME. People wanted to send files such as data files or documents or spreadsheets to other people.

The method called MIME was developed for embedding attachments and other information in email messages which until then, could not be sent between users on different e-mail systems because the few systems that supported attachments had proprietary ways of handling them.

As the Internet’s popularity grew and the public started using different service providers in the 1990s, the need for a standardised way to attach files to e-mails became necessary and  MIME quickly became that standard.

Co-designers, Dr. Borenstein and Ned Freed, led the specification of MIME and were instrumental in its worldwide adoption, enabling email users to send and receive graphics, audio, and video files via Internet mail systems and support messages in various character sets. MIME is now the official Internet standard that defines the way in which multimedia objects are labeled, compounded, and encoded for transport over the Internet.

“From its inception in the late 1960s, it became clear that email’s incompatibilities – be they in language or file type – would be prohibitive for its evolution and long-term success. We set out to solve that complexity, and from the moment of its release, we realised its innovation would become a mainstay in the future of email technology,” said Borenstein.

“The idea behind MIME was quite simple – make it easy for users to embrace email and be successful.  I’m thrilled to celebrate the anniversary of this innovation and look forward to its continued evolution.”

It is estimated that today, the MIME standard is used billions – if not a trillion – times each day either in emails or on embedded in web pages.

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