01 January 1998

AN ADDED VALUE E-mail service is shortly to be launched by the Royal Mail in partnership with the ubiquitous Microsoft. Little more than a year back, the RM was insistent that E-mail wasn't its cup of Java and that it had nothing to fear from the rise and rise of the technology. But now RM plans to link electronic and traditional mail in a service that will forward hard copies of E-mail to people without computers or E-mail accounts. The service is a less ambitious version of Sweden's @Post which launched this month. This provides every Swedish citizen over the age of six with an E-mail account, useable both for correspondence and settling bills. Payment is effected via low cost 'microstamps'. In addition to the UK, eleven European countries are considering a similar service. Royal Mail is saying nowt but is talking joint ventures with several IT suppliers (including the leading Internet browser Netscape) about a system that will enable people to fill-in forms such as tax returns via the Internet. 'There will be no post in eight to ten years from now', forecasts @Post's Stefan Jonsson. [He's wrong, of course. Radio, films and television were all going to sound the death knell for live theatre - yet there are more live shows now running in London than in 1920!]