EarthLink, one of the country's largest Internet service providers, told customers yesterday that as of Sept. 30 it will discontinue "shell" Internet access. The once-common shell access method connects to a Unix text interface and was created before the Internet achieved mainstream popularity. It has largely been supplanted by methods that allow graphical access to features such as the World Wide Web.
Of EarthLink's 3.7 million users, only 2,000 had shell access, said Lance Weatherby, executive vice president for dial-up services at EarthLink. However, he added, "They're a very vocal 2,000."
In response to the complaints, EarthLink today began discussing a new service--for which subscribers would have to pay--that would let customers keep their old email addresses, Weatherby said. People wouldn't have shell access, but email sent to the old address would be forwarded, he said.
Though shell access still can be found at some ISPs, it's vanishing the same way Gopher, Usenet and other technologies are losing out to newer Internet software such as the Web, instant messaging and file-sharing services. Shell access has largely been replaced by methods that allow richer Internet services.
"It's a technology that just isn't very widely used anymore," Weatherby said.
EarthLink decided to drop the service because it was changing the company it uses to tap into the Internet, and it would have been too expensive to add the shell access service with the new provider, Weatherby said. "In looking for an alternative for shell accounts, we couldn't find anything that made sense from a business perspective," he said.
One of the chief complaints was from people who have cherished email addresses they have had for years. "I think a lot of it is emotional. 'I want my email address, and you can't take my email address away from me,'" Weatherby said.
But one shell account subscriber, unhappy with the cancellation, said it's not just the email address he cherishes. He likes to be able to check email from servers worldwide and to transfer files from other Internet servers to his shell account quickly. In addition, his computer was set up so he could use several email addresses, he said.
EarthLink offered the shell users six months of free access with more current methods, but the subscriber isn't interested in that or in paying for email forwarding to preserve his old address. "I'll never be doing business with them again," the subscriber said.