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The history of SquirrelMail

The two brothers Luke and Nathan Ehresman founded the SquirrelMail Project in 1999, releasing the first version 0.1 on December 14th the same year. The name derived from the over-abundant squirrel population in Georgia 1999. The brothers were playing volleyball one day, and saw a squirrel try to jump between trees. He failed miserably and fell 40 feet to the ground. (Don't worry - the squirrel got up and looked sort of embarrassed as it scurried away.) Because of this, they had squirrels on their mind the next day when they were coming up with a name. Considering squirrels to be one of the fastest animals, they decided to give the fastest mail service(s) the name SquirrelMail.

When the SquirrelMail Project was originally started, the playing field of open source web mail applications was relatively sparse. Sure, there were several choices available in this area. However, none of the currently available options provided a particularly full-featured, easy to use, and easy to install solution. On account of this, the SquirrelMail project was born.

Well, the rules of the game have changed. While it was once sufficient for SquirrelMail to satisfy system administrators and web mail users by simply being easy to install, and by requiring little as far as a server and browser are concerned, this is now not enough. Alternative options exist in the open source web mail world, and if SquirrelMail does not continue to grow and mature, it will be replaced by those projects that will.

The SquirrelMail Project was started with a very specific purpose that evolved into a long-standing set of Guiding Principles. These principles stated that the SquirrelMail was to be an easy to install web mail application that required little from the server and client. This meant no dependencies on funky PHP extensions or things such as JavaScript or dynamic HTML. Basically, the original founders of the SquirrelMail Project, Luke and Nathan Ehresman, were targeting a very discrete audience which composed about 5% of the overall web mail world. This group of users was those that didn't need all that flashy stuff. They just wanted something that worked and was not a pain to administrate.

Well, as Open Source projects have a tendency to do, the project grew well beyond its original intentions. Paul Joseph Thompson remembers a conversation he once had with Luke where they were talking about using SquirrelMail as one's primary email client. He stated emphatically that SquirrelMail just was not intended to be used in this manner. He seemed shocked, amazed, and somewhat frightened when Paul told him that he had primarily been using SquirrelMail for his mail needs for over six months, and that he thought that there were many other SquirrelMail users who did the same. The 5% had grown to a much higher level as plug-in support, address books, and other cool features were added.

Luke and Nathan should not have been surprised. After all, one of the foundational natural laws of the open source world is that a project has really gone mainstream when it starts solving problems it never intended to solve. So did SquirrelMail.

© 1999-2010 by The SquirrelMail Project Team