U.S. Postal Service accepts Java,
Boston -- The U.S. Postal Service will use Java to ease the mailing tasks of small- to mid-sized mailers, postal officials said.
Customers will be able to download Java-based "smart forms" from the USPS' Web site and use them to calculate their mailing costs, according to Robert Reisner, vice president of technology applications for the USPS.
The USPS decided upon Sun Microsystems Computer Corp.'s object-oriented, multimedia Internet programming language because of its flexibility, Reisner said.
"Java offered a workable opportunity to use [customers'] legacy systems," Reisner said.
But while the USPS chose Sun's Java for its smart forms, the USPS remains open to all vendors for other projects. The exact relationship of the postal service to those vendors has yet to be defined, but may include the USPS licensing other technologies from vendors, rather than developing them themselves, Reisner said.
The electronic postmark
Some new relationships are already underway for the USPS, including those furthering its electronic postmark, which time-, date-, and place-stamps documents sent over the Internet.
"The electronic postmark is essentially a security device," and is the starting point for a variety of services which the postal service can offer, including the smart forms, Reisner said.
The USPS is currently testing the electronic postmark with 15 law firms and medical and financial institutions, businesses likely to need a "time and date stamp with a federal agency standing behind it," Reisner said.
The postmark works with all major electronic mail systems and can deliver messages up to two megabytes in size, according to Jon Cook, program manager for new electronic business at the USPS.
The USPS has contracted with Palo Alto, CA-based Aegis Star, an electronic document archival company, to test the electronic postmark system. Participants' e-mail is routed through Aegis Star, which electronically scans the body of each message looking for "uspost" in the document's upper left-hand corner, Cook said. Upon detecting this user-typed-in phrase, the postmark is "stamped" with the date, time, and location of the system, as well as a unique archival number, Cook said.
The message is then forwarded to the recipient, with a copy remaining in the customer's account with Aegis Star, Cook said. The archival piece of the system, like its other aspects, is tentative, pending customer interest, Cook said.
Though all documents may not reqire a time stamp, for some that level of official precision may be indispendable, such as documents filed with a court, Reisner said.
Far from imposing a mandatory model on the nation, the USPS anticipates occupying a niche for those mailers who require official verification, according to Reisner.
"Various people are going to choose various solutions to create `officialness,'" Reisner said.
But with the fifth largest telecommunications network in the world and experience delivering 190 billion pieces of mail annually, the USPS hopes to be a player in the inchoate elecronic document delivery game.
And for for those who doubt that there is a role -- any role -- for the government "authentication" of documents, Reisner had just one question. "Would you rather protection be in the hands of the next multibillion dollar entrepreneur?" he asked, though he mentioned no moguls by name. --Rebecca Sykes, IDG News Service, Boston Bureau
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