What "Pine" really stands for


See the Pine home page for official Pine info.

Pine started out around 1989 as a project of the Office of Computing and Communications at the University of Washington. The idea was to provide an easy-to-use mail system for UNIX boxes. We examined a few of the alternatives and found Elm close to what we wanted but still lacking, most notably in the interface to the message editor. It usually defaulted to either vi or emacs, neither of which were suitable for our purposes so we choose to replace it with a hacked version of micro emacs. Elm also lacked an easy way to get a list of folders, an address book, and an integrated message viewer. The name Pine was the obvious choice, being a tree like Elm, being prominent in the Pacific NorthWet (yes NorthWet) and with many possible acronyms. The first acronym choice was Pine Is Nearly Elm as that was the case. It has never stood for Pine Is Not Elm as we were happy to have elm as a starting point.

Mike Seibel did the work on message composer and some other components and I did most of the work on mail manager interface things like the address book, folder manager and message index. Work continued and many things got redesigned until there was very little of the original Elm user interface code left. Micro emacs was turned into a C library to provide tighter coupling between the composer, mail reader and address book. After deeply considering the matter, the message composer was named pico, as a contraction of Pine's composer, and because it is the metric prefix for small. It is pronounced "pea-co" like the metric prefix, not "pie-co" like the type face. I must admit, I never could understand why most people in this world seem to choose the later pronounciation.

Also at the UW at the time was the world famous hacker, Mark Crispin, creator of the IMAP protocol and co-conspirator in the design of MIME. Using his recently created c-client library which was designed to support IMAP, MIME, and several mail file formats, the bottom half of the Elm code was replaced. This allowed Pine to be used as an IMAP client. It also made it possible to add support for different mail file formats to Pine simply by writing a driver for then in the c-client. To date (1995) this includes Tenex, MH, NetNews, POP, Carmel, and some new ones invented for DOS. While we were at it we had the chance to add tightly integrated user interface support for MIME so Pine could send attachments and do a few things with images and character sets. By this time there was no Elm code left at all, so the the acronym now stood for Pine is no-longer Elm.

Once we had the basic MIME and IMAP support in and had some experience with them, we began to find lots of different uses for Pine. We could have it reading mail-like files, bulletin boards and data bases by adding drivers for other formats. With slight interface modifications, it was used as part of UWIN, the UW campus wide information service.

When I first looked at using the name Pine, I went through the dictionary looking for "N" words. I found one that I really liked, but was reluctant to use it at first, though it remains my favorite: Pine Is Neologistically Elm. A neologism is a new name made up for something, usually by a psychotic. I guess it is a psychological term. I think this is very funny, but most other people don't, except for a librarian I met in Portland once. Thanks to her I know at least one other person thinks this is funny which makes it possible for me to write this here now.

It had been my goal to get my masters for a long time and I finally got around to actually doing something about it. I left the UW at the end of 1992, moved across the country to Blacksburg, and started on it at Virginia Tech. Work on Pine continues at the UW. This time Pine began acquiring some power user features. These include ver nice aggregate operations on groups of messages. Thanks to NorthWestNet I was able to return to Seattle for th summer of 1993 and do a large amount of work on user interface support to make Pine truly useful as NetNews reader. Work on acronym creation also continued at the UW (I'm in temporary retirement from thi activity) and Pine now standard for Pine Internet News and E-mail.

As work on Pine continues today, the UW is finishing up IMAP4 which is on the Internet standards track for remote mailbox access. IMAP4 will include support for remote mailbox synchronization so your mail can be stored on both your server and your personal digital assistant and synchronized after a business trip. It also provides some measure of safety in case your PDA accidentally falls out of your Lear jet while maintaining your bi-continental life style.


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