This Time Self-Hosted
dark mode light mode Search

An easy way for Italian companies to look silly to Free Software developers (and not only)

Lately I’ve noticed that a few Italian companies (none of which I work for luckily) still reply to email messages with the “R:” prefix.

if you never seen the Italian version of Outlook and Outlook Expres you most likely don’t know this problem. For some reasons I never understood, instead of prefixing the replies with the de-facto standard “Re:” prefix (or case variants thereof), they prefix them with “R:”. In recent Microsoft Outlook versions, as well as in the newer Outlook Express releases, if I remember correctly, there is a checkbox in the configuration file that switches to “international prefixes”, thus replacing “R:” with “RE:” (and “I:” with “FW:” for forwarding).

I expected Wikipedia to have at least an article on this issue, but it isn’t even listed in the major glitches of Outlook Express. Strange.

So what’s the problem with this “alternative” prefix? Well the most obnoxious one is with UseNet. Back when I actually followed the Italian newsgroups, it was obnoxious to see people replying with R: because it caused almost all news clients to split the threads as they thought the subject changed. Agent had a nice feature to specify which reply prefixes to identify, other readers provided a way to turn off threading by subject.

Nowadays a lot of clients support either threading or identify mail threads as “conversations” (no it’s not just a feature of GMail, Apple’s Mail client had that for a while too). These tricks suffer from the same problem. Either they group together mail just by reference (and thus won’t break up the thread when the subject change, making different conversations look like a huge one if the other side is hitting “reply” even when writing of stuff that has nothing to do with any previous message), or the end up splitting a single thread in two-message conversations. Or they support adding multiple reply prefixes. It becomes even more obnoxious when the subject start having as a prefix “RE: R: R: R: R: R: R: R:”, as one client doesn’t know about the “R:” prefix and the other will not “eat up” multiple prefixes.

I do have a “thread” in GMail, that happened with a former colleague of mine, that ends up having nine reply prefixes. And of course GMail won’t group those messages together, making it hard to actually understand what’s going on in the thread.

Now, as long as you’re a single person, you might not care about “R:” prefixes. If you are a small company that works only in Italy, or a medium one who is not working in the IT sector, I can understand, I still think you should be considerate when you use the network, and that your IT managers should just tick that checkbox on, but I can understand.

When you are a medium to average company, whose main sector is IT, whose employers are supposed to know enough technical details to be able to deal with issues that might come up, or might write technical documentation, leaving the “R:” prefix makes you look silly, at least to my eyes (and I’m sure I’m not alone). To me it’s like screaming “We’re subject to Microsoft will, and we don’t give a crap about any other vendor”. When this happens during hiring it’s like a huge banner for me “this is not a company you want to work for”.

As far as I know the “R:” prefix is an Italian prerogative, I don’t think any other Outlook Express version changed that. I suppose it came from the same people who decided that Windows’s Minesweeper was too violent, and had to be replaced with “Prato fiorito” (literally Flowered Garden; it was the exact same code of Minesweeper, just resources changed so that the icon was a flower and instead of mines you had to avoid flowers… I suppose it could work if one has an allergy…).

Sigh, like there wasn’t enough bad stuff already in Italy, even Microsoft wanted to make people laugh at us…

Comments 7
  1. Many Germans have their clients set up in a similar way: You get “AW:” instead of “RE:” (for “Antwort”) (I forgot what those clients use for “FW:”).Localisation is all good but here it obviosuly poses a problem. On the other hand I don’t think that the standard determines how replies have to be called, I think you can set a header referencing the message ID of the message you reply to but it’s not always set.It’s a lack of the email protocol actually and I think pretty much all agree that we are at a point where we should think about a new protocol/specification for mails, one that allows us to handle all the mails we get in a reasonable way. Email v.2 here we come 😉

  2. Ah now that you make me think of it, I remember having _two_ messages (out of 2.4GB) that have AW: reply tag. Maybe in Germany they are more considerate and disable that more often? Or I just didn’t have much contact with germans.I do understand that it’s not mandated by any standard, that’s why I said “de-facto standard”. Almost all webmail softwares luckily seems to be using “RE:” anyway, even if they are Italian.The problem with protocols and specifications for email is that they either get incompatible, or they tend to have the same problems when you come to interoperability :/ It’s a _very_ difficult situation. You can see that even with HTML emails. Hate them or not, they were trying to solve something that was intended by a subset of users as a problem…

  3. As someone who as only ever seen RE: I had simply considered it to be standard. I can see how it would be a major pain in the butt to deal with though. In fact, sometimes I e-mail people that will change the subject line for no apparent reason which can also throw off some e-mail clients.I think that possibly the larger problem here is that I bet 90% of users don’t notice, or simply don’t care. So what incentive is there for them to switch to the RE standard. Often times I feel that people such as developers, who have heavier computer usage, and are more aware of how silly these problems are, get the short end of the stick. I think this is because often they are only people bothered by these nuisances (myself included), because they understand how simple it would be to fix!I do see this as a problem, but sadly I think the public at large would have to care more for this to be addressed in any timely manner.

  4. “WG” (for ‘Weiterleitung’) is the German “Fwd” equivalent.I’ve got a bunch of them in my inbox — all sent by my university – which uses Outlook… so again the same culprit 🙂

  5. In (Brazillian) Portuguese, Re: sometimes is Res:, and FW or Fwd is sometimes Enc:Luckly, I usually don’t see many of those; or, if I see, I’ve never noticed or cared enough.

  6. Unfortunately, there’s also a webmail big provider which conforms to that.A friend of mine uses no less than FASTWEB webmail; and there’s no mean to configure that header. It is “R:”. Fixed.ARGH!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.