Saturday, December 27, 2008

Floppy mail at IIT Kanpur

While googling for something, I came across an interesting blog entry. This captures the experience of Floppy Mail at IITK - read yourself to find out more about it.

Here is where I found it -

below are some postings on various groups about the early days of email/internet at iitk.

most of it had been compiled and posted by vartika bhandari (btech, iitk, cse 2002)
and in the later part there is a reply from Prof Dheeraj Sanghi (also a btech from iitk) where he talks about his btech days.


Subject: Floppy Mail at IITK!!!
Date: Sun, 27 Apr 2003 22:47:10 +0530
From: Vartika Bhandari
Organization: iitk
Newsgroups: cciitk.general

Some interesting trivia about the beginnings of e-mail at IITK, gleaned
from archives of soc.culture.indian:


Xref: quagga soc.culture.indian:446 comp.dcom.lans:3550
>Path: quagga!m2xenix!percy!tektronix!!uw-beaver!!!usc!!!lll-winken!aunro!alberta!!!kudu
>From: (Gopi Kuduvalli, The Gemini)
>Newsgroups: soc.culture.indian,comp.dcom.lans
>Subject: Floppy based electronic mail
>Message-ID: <>
>Date: 10 Aug 91 05:21:50 GMT
>Reply-To: (Gopi Kuduvalli, The Gemini)
>Organization: The University of Calgary
>Lines: 64

A friend of mine (name withheld by request) recently returned from
India. He had an astonishing, if somewhat amusing story to tell about the state
of computer networking in India:

He was at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur (IITK), visiting
a friend. This friend was busy for the whole of the evening storing data
on floppies, and making a neat stack of them, while my friend waited
patiently. After seemingly infinite time, the IITK systems fellow came
out sorta sweating and all that swearing, "These guys have no other
business; Din raat mail bejte rahte hai (Keep sending mail thru day and
night)". My friend asked him what his problem was, the mail would go over
the network and he doesn't have to physically carry it, does he? To my
friend's surprise, the systems fellow replied that they do. They store the
mail on floppies and send by Courier service to National Center for
Software Development (NCST), Bombay!


Some statistics on Floppy Mail usage (again from soc.culture.indian):


DATE No. of Mails
28/1/91 17
1/2/91 5
4/2/91 8
7/2/91 10


DATE No. of Mails
28/1/91 45
4/2/91 25
6/2/91 - (the floppy goes even if there is nothing on it)
8/2/91 28


Finally...the advent of leased lines:

From: S. Ramani (
Subject: Indian Inst of Technology, Kanpur is now on a leased line to
Newsgroups: soc.culture.indian
Date: 1993-04-16 02:24:04 PST

I am posting an Email I received today. It brings good news that the
leased from IIT Kanpur to Delhi is now commissioned. So, the Email to
Kanpur ought to flow relatively more reliably. However, please do not
forget that they are reached thru two 9.6 Kbps leased lines
(Bombay-Delhi and Delhi-Kanpur). Do not expect very convenient talk
sessions and ftping of heavy files. The ERNET staff in the Indian labs
are working hard all the time, and we have to recognise the
step-by-step progress they are making in the face of very significant

------------- Email from kanpur follows ---------------------------
Date: Thu, 15 Apr 93 17:31:04 GMT
From: (Vipul Jain)
Subject: IITK is on INTERNET!!

It is a great pleasure to announce that IIT Kanpur is on Internet.
Kindly update your nameserver/hostfiles/routing tables to recognize
our router and Sparc system. iitk_janus (CISCO ROUTER) (SPARC SYSTEM)

ernet-staff at iitk



"...the vision of beauty is possible only to unfettered contemplation..." -- Bertrand Russell


A reply to the earlier posting by Prof Dheeraj Sanghi


Subject: Re: Floppy Mail at IITK!!!
Date: Sun, 27 Apr 2003 18:24:54 +0000 (UTC)
From: (Dheeraj Sanghi)
Organization: Computer Science & Engineering, IIT Kanpur
Newsgroups: cciitk.general

The report is exaggerated a little. We did have floppy mail
in the early 90s, but it was a very smooth operation. All
the mail gets queued in one machine. One command, and it gets
copied to the floppy. Usually one floppy a day, and not an
unmanageable stack.

And students loved it. IIT Kanpur was the only institute
in the country to have email (or floppy mail, if you
please). When the leased line came into existence, the floppy
mail continued for some time, but some politics, and some
ego hassles later, the floppy mail was stopped. And with this
the email to students stopped. The 9.6 kbps leased line was
too unreliable to allow 3000 users to send unlimited emails.
So only faculty and PhD students could send email. And their
emails would be read by someone to ensure that they are not
misusing the small amount of bandwidth that we had.
The concept of privacy was unknown at that time.

What would you prefer: floppy based mail, or no email at all.

Many people even at that time felt "no email" option is better.
Having floppy-based email was tarnishing Institute's image
as a place for high technology. On the other hand, someone
like me would argue that it enhances our image in that we
have found an innovative engineering solution to achieve
faster communication. Before that a letter and its reply
would invariably take 3 weeks. Floppy based mail would get
you a reply in maximum 48 hours.

And you could FTP a file through email (there were many
email-to-FTP gateways on the Internet), and you could
get a webpage in the similar fashion (though there were
very few webites then).

And not surprisingly, most of the people who wanted to stop
floppy based email (and eventually succeeded) were those
who had email access through the leased line.

And by the way, MIT at Boston (Media Labs), has now picked
up that concept, and has a similar solution to provide email
to rural communities. In their words, there are many communities
who cannot afford permanent online Internet connection,
and an intermittent, asynchronous connection is one way to
bridge the digital divide.

And those who have done computer networks course in CSE
would remember that a truck loaded with tapes running on
a highway has more "bandwidth" than a fiber optic link.

So don't think lowly of low-tech. As an engineer, your focus
should be problem solving and not on technology.


Dr. Dheeraj Sanghi
Associate Prof., CSE Dept., and Off: 259-7077,7638 Fax: 259-0725,7586
Head, Computer Centre Off: 259-7252,7651 Fax: 259-0413
IIT Kanpur, UP 208016, India Res: (0512) 259-8627


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