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Ramus: Making E-Mail smarter.

RAMUS: MAKING E-MAIL SMARTER

Recently, we dropped in on a four-person startup called Beyond Inc. Beyond is a venture headed (and funded) by Chuck Digate, an ex-senior vice president at Lotus who has some fascinating notions about the future of electronic mail systems. Digate showed us a very early prototype of a product, code-named Ramus, that demonstrates these concepts in action--and it's a remarkably convincing vision.

Ramus (which may ship late next year) is not a conventional E-mail system, Digate points out: It is an E-mail "application" that is designed to act as a front end to the system-level plumbing of existing network and mainframe-based mail systems. This approach, he says, allows Beyond to focus almost entirely on creating functional, user-oriented features rather than re-inventing basic communications technologies. "Moreover, we'd rather add a new level of value than try to compete with companies like Novell and cc:Mail."

What Ramus provides are powerful "intelligent agent" capabilities that let users set up templates for structured messages--forms, memos, meeting requests, etc.--that the E-mail system recognizes and handles according to pre-defined procedures. In addition, Ramus offers a simple but powerful "if-then" scripting language for creating personal message filtering systems (if the boss sends me a message, put it in the Urgent folder; if anyone from my nuisance list sends me mail, junk it). Finally, Ramus can deal intelligently with problems of archiving and retrieving messages: It assigns messages to appropriate categories, and will even "wake up" a reminder note just before a meeting or deadline.

Digate says that a fully implemented Ramus system will be able to take the "intelligent agent" concept to a fairly sophisticated level. For example, Ramus could be programmed to collect budgets from individual department heads, plug them into a consolidation worksheet, and alert the CFO if any company-wide totals are unexpectedly high. Or it could "fish" in a regular flow of E-mail messages, news stories, sales orders, and other electronic data and pluck out items of interest to a user analyzing a company's competitive position.

Our sense is that Digate's group is solving real-world problems with some very sensible, practical solutions. Large E-mail systems have a tendency to dump masses of undigested ASCII text into the (electronic) in-boxes of a relatively small number of people, who then have to sift through the stuff and respond one item at a time--leaving little time to use the E-mail network actively to acquire new, important information. Ramus could be the landmark product that turns E-mail into a genuinely productive tool. And if that happens, Beyond will probably turn out to be one of the hottest new companies of the next decade.

Charles Digate, president, Beyond Inc., One Kendall Square, Cambridge, Mass. 02139; 617/621-7123.
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Title Annotation:Beyond Inc: Ramus electronic mail software
Publication:Soft-Letter
Date:Nov 7, 1989
Words:454
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