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The History of Pegasus Mail and Mercury

By the standards of the ever-changing Internet, Pegasus Mail has a long history: it sent its first message in December 1989, and has been made available as a free service to the Internet since February 1990. The Windows version of Pegasus Mail first appeared in 1993, as did the first version of Mercury, my mail server. In the time since its initial release, Pegasus Mail has sent billions of messages for millions of people. It dates from the time when the Internet was a community rather than just a highway - a time when people helped each other without worrying too much about who was going to pay for it.

My name is David Harris - I'm the person who develops both Pegasus Mail and Mercury. There is no anonymous corporation behind the program, and the same pair of hands that wrote the first version in 1989 is still writing it in the year 2002. People regularly ask me why I originally wrote these programs, and why I still make them available for free: if you've got a moment, I'll try to give you a little background.

In 1989, the University where I worked (in Dunedin, New Zealand) installed its first Novell NetWare network. It wasn't until after we installed it that we found that it didn't include an e-mail system, but we'd already used up our budget and the commercial mail packages that were available were very expensive. To fill the gap, I wrote a simple e-mail program in my own time and made it available on the network: I was quite surprised to find that people liked it.

Early in 1990, after tidying it up a little, I made it available on the Internet at a friend's FTP site in Hawaii, expecting that four or five other sites might find a use for it... In the first week of availability, it was downloaded more than 100 times, which also surprised me. I found that I was receiving mail from people thanking me for giving them something they couldn't have afforded any other way -- communication. I grew to understand that communication had to be regarded as a right, not as a privilege: it seemed to me in 1989, as it still seems to me now, that freedom of speech is useless if nobody can hear you. Giving away Pegasus Mail seemed to be a means by which I could try to make communication more accessible to a much wider range of people who needed it - it was, if you like, my attempt to level the playing field a little, to remove some of the power from the faceless corporate giants who saw profit as the only possible end to enterprise.

From that time, I began a curious double existence, working at the University by day, and working on Pegasus Mail at night, refining and tuning it to add the things people were asking for. With each release of the program, usage grew, until by 1993, the demands it was placing on my time were so great that I had to make a choice between my safe University job and going out full-time to support Pegasus Mail. Leaving the University gave me what I needed most -- time -- but took away what I needed to survive -- my salary. This put me in an awkward situation: the ideals that had motivated me to make the program available in the first place were still just as valid as ever, but I also had to eat. I hit upon the idea of making the manuals available for sale as an option to support the development of the program. This allowed the software to remain free, and the addition of extensive online help ensured that the program remained useful even without the manuals: so, the larder was stocked without compromising the ideals. To this day, my only source of income remains the sale of manuals for Pegasus Mail and Mercury.

Since 1990, the world has changed: the Internet has become more or less a commodity, and people's expectations of software have altered enormously. I've worked hard to try to keep up with the expectations of my user base and to keep offering a program that fits all their needs. I enjoy making Pegasus Mail available on these terms, knowing that it helps people: your support is a key component of making this all happen, whether it's by purchasing manuals, or by showing the program to people who might benefit from using it, or simply by enjoying the fruits of my labour. With your support and backing, I look forward to being able to offer Pegasus Mail and Mercury in the future for as long as the ideals they represent are still relevant.


-- David Harris --
Author, Pegasus Mail
Dunedin, May 2002.

[ Page modified 06 May 2002 | Content David Harris  | Design by Technology Solutions ]