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Interview with RITLABS


This is an interview I conducted with Stefan Tanurkov of RITLabs concerning RITLabs, the people who work there, philosophies, and issues concerning the highly anticipated TheBat! v2.0.


LG> Why did you decide to write an e-mail client package?
ST> We started using e-mail in the end of 1996 when I was away from the rest of other RITLABS guys and when Internet service providing had just started in our country. Before that, I was extensively using FidoNet mailing. I was surprised that none of the e-mail clients I tried was satisfactory for me (though I did not do a lot of mailing) - the main complaint was the absence of templates. So, when I came back, the first program I wrote was a small gateway program to convert Internet e-mail into FidoNet Netmail to read Internet messages using an FTN mail reader, and finally came to the conclusion that the next program I will write would be an e-mail client which will suit my needs plus fulfill the suggestions of my colleagues. In February 1997, we were expecting a big job from the Moldavian Air Traffic Service Authority, but they never came through with the final decision. While we were waiting, I started writing The Bat! (codenamed A-mailer), the first quick and dirty version was ready in one month, when no company came up with a good job for us, we decided to release The Bat! to public and announce it from our site as a Wide Area Beta.

LG> Did you base it from another e-mail client package?
ST> If you mean something intentional, then the answer is no. :-) Some interface details like the three-panel main window were used in Netscape, PM Mail and several other clients, so it was just like making a car - some common (and considered as natural) principles were used, but it is not possible to say that a particular package was used as a "prototype".

LG> Why did you choose the name "The Bat!"?
ST> Almost because it does not contain the word "mail" :-) Pigeons are too heavily used as postal mascots... About that time, we were listening to a lot of Meat Loaf with his albums "The Bat Out The Hell" and "The Bat Out The Hell II", so I think that this was the real cause to choose such a name :-)

LG> What is the goal of your software?
ST> To make life easier :-)

LG> How long/much do you work every day on TB?
ST> It depends on what do you mean by working on TB. We don't do only programming. A lot of time is spent supporting users via e-mail, so it can be from 8 to 20 hours :-)

LG> Do you have other jobs in addition to RIT Labs?
ST> No, we own RITLABS and we work here exclusively.

LG> Do you have any corporate philosophy on your products?
ST> Yes. :-) The most important thing about our philosophy is that we always help each member of our company (or at least to not interfere) to unleash his potential and express himself.

LG> How is RIT Labs structured?
ST> Currently, 6 people are working at RITLABS including Max and myself: 4 programmers and 2 administrators/managers/promoters/etc. We are not a usual enterprise - we are almost a team of enthusiasts/hobbyists who is also making some money out of what they do. :-)

LG> Who works there?
ST> People who like to make something good for mankind in relation to computers :-) The names are: Stef, Max, Sergey, Stas, Diman and Igor

LG> Is it an office type setting or do you do most of the work from home?
ST> We are working at an office, because it is the best place to work as a team and because we are trying to be a bit official :-)

LG> Did you imagine that TB would be this successful?
ST> We were sure that any work that is done with care and love should be successful.

LG> Do you have formal training in software Engineering?
ST> My University diploma states that I am a specialist in Computer Science, but I think I am a mathematician specialized on Graphs Theory. :-) Max has finished High School and soon went to professional programming.

LG> Did you work for any software companies before you started this project?
ST> Yes. But it was too many years ago :-)

LG> Do you have any statistics, e.g. which countries were most of these sold to?
ST> The Bat! is most popular in Germany and the US.

LG> Are there many changes to the GUI? If so, do you have a couple of screenshots for us to see?
ST> The general concept will be absolute flexibility in interface customization. We will make screen shots later - when the program will be almost ready for Beta-testing.

LG> v2.0 is rumored to have been built from the ground up (not from version 1.x), is this true?
ST> Well, almost. There are only a few things that will not change too much.

LG> Will v2.0 be backwards compatible? Meaning if someone has problems with it, can they reinstall v1.x and still have all of their messages, filters, and acccounts accessible?
ST> No. Well, we will make some export/import routines in both versions that will allows downgrades, but it will not be automatic.

LG> When will the beta be released?
ST> Do not know yet. Soon, I hope :-) I suppose (but not promise) that it will be February of this year.

LG> Will there be an improved auto-format in v2.x?
ST> Version 2 will have an alternative editor which will be fully compatible with Windows editors, but it will have extra features like optional virtual space. It might even just be a plugin.

LG> Will v2 be faster than v1.x in regards to message bases etc.
ST> Yes, we hope it will be much faster, especially on very large message bases.

LG> Is there a planned port to Linux? Will you charge for it?
ST> We are planning to make the Linux version when Delphi for Linux will be available (this year, as promised by Inprise, Inc). We will make the decision when The Bat! / Linux will be ready - it's too difficult to set the price when nothing is done :-)

LG> v2.0 is rumored to support 3rd party plugins. Is this true? How will they be implemented (.dll or scripted etc.)
ST> Yes, that is true. It will be possible to extend The Bat! using DLLs AND scripts.

LG> How extensive will the plugin support be? Meaning, can new menu items, macros, functions etc. be added?
ST> Almost everything will be plug-in/script driven (menu items, toolbar buttons, macros, filter actions etc. included).

LG> Are there any changes to the filtering subsystem? For example, grouping of like filters, copying filters between accounts ETC.
ST> Yes, we plan a lot of changes in filtering system including grouping, action lists, more criteria etc, etc. The definition of the account will also be changed. User accounts within The Bat! and mail accounts will be clearly separated.

LG> Are there any changes to the address book? i.e. Different address book support for different accounts.
ST> Yes. Also, large address books will not require much memory.

LG> Will v2.0 support non-fixed width fonts?
ST> Yes.

LG> Will v2.0 support customizable kludges? i.e. X-**** like X-Website: http://www.pcwize.com
ST> It will be possible even in the next 1.xx, hopefully :-)

LG> v2.0 is rumored to allow us to redefine shortcut keys. Is this true? Can we create new shortcut key combinations?
ST> Yes.

LG> In regards to PGP, will v2

- preserve the date of decrypted PGP messages?

ST> Yes, but I must say that PGP messages will be handled in a completely different way :-)

LG> - decrypt also the attachment and bind it to the decrypted message?

ST> Yes.

LG> - use auto-decryption and auto-signature-checking as configured by user?

ST> Yes.

LG> - encrypt attachments to encrypted mails, too?

ST> Yes.

LG> - sign not only the plain text part of a mail, but include the attachments?

ST> Yes, it will support PGP/MIME and S/MIME.

LG> There is a rumor floating around that TB will include a usenet news reader. Is this true?
ST> I think so. We still have not decided on what it will look like - as a plug-in or as a built-in function...

LG> If so, why have you decided to do this? How much overhead (bloat) will this add.
ST> I expect it as extra 20-30K of code :-)

LG> Why did you decide to include it in TB as opposed to a completely separate application?
ST> I think that extra size speaks for itself :-) It is not a separate application - it is actually an extension of existing features. News groups will be just another kind of folder, accordingly to the new "ideology".

LG> Will v2.0 finally support threading by "References:" headers only (i.e. there is no "in-reply-To:" header).
ST> Yes. We did not do it in the current version because of the message base format...

LG> Version 2.0 is rumored to support scripting. Can you give us an example of a short script?
ST> I cannot give you an example now simply because we still have not decided on what scripting language is the best for our purposes. I guess, we will end up making it possible to add a script language plug-in so users can choose what scripting language they'd like to use :-)

LG> Will we be able to use scripting in templates to create things like our own macros? Meaning, can we call scripts (like the %include macro), or must they be inlined in every template we want to use them in?
ST> Of course :-) This is one of the primary objectives...

LG> How extensive is the scripting? Can we call other programs to perform functions.
ST> OK, now I will make it more clear: everything will be script-driven. Plug-in DLLs will implement functions that may be called from scripts. So, virtually, it will be possible to do anything.

LG> Will the scripting support error control? For example, will it address the long standing bug of not checking an address book group to see if an address actually exists before performing the "remove address book entry" function on the actions tab in filters?
ST> Yes.

LG> Will version 2.0 fully support HTML both in sending,
ST> Yes.

LG> and viewing href'd images?
ST> This will be possible when we will write our own Web browser - I guess, this is a topic for another interview, but you should wait for it for several months :-)

LG> Will v2.0 support hooks for virus scanning attachments to messages?
ST> Yes.

LG> Will v2.0 fully support MAPI?
ST> Yes.

LG> Will IMAP(4) support be improved ??
ST> Absolutely. This is another big improvement planned for version 2.

LG> How big (filesize) do you expect v2.0 to be?
ST> Well, I hope that it will be smaller than v1.xx executable, but I cannot really predict anything on this subject.

LG> How much do you expect v2.0 to cost?
ST> I think the price will not be much higher than that of v1.xx

LG> How much will the upgrade from v1.x cost?
ST> It depends on many factors. We will make the decision about this when we start Gamma-testing. :-)

LG> How many of the items on the wish list are going to be addressed in v2.0 that I didn't cover above?
ST> I really cannot answer this question now, because v2 is going to be very different. What I can say now is that I personally promise to read the wish list carefully and do my best in fulfilling all wishes (I think other our guys would agree with me).



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