At first glance, the attractions of the scheme unveiled jointly yesterday by the Royal Mail and Microsoft are not obvious. The service allows you to send an e-mail to the Royal Mail, which will print it out in its main sorting office in Mount Pleasant, north London, and deliver it to a physical, rather than electronic address. The cost: pounds 1.50 for a one-sheet message, pounds 3 for four sheets, but only pounds 10 for a 50-page black-and-white document - the scheme does not yet have colour printers.
Of course, for the terminally lazy, or the lazy at their terminals, it will be ideal: no more addressing envelopes, or wet those vile- tasting stamps.
However, the two organisations think that the benefits of RelayOne, as the service is called, will be clearer for international communications - especially for linking people who do have computers up with those who do not.
The Royal Mail said it would also compete with overnight delivery services outside the UK to addresses here by guaranteeing next-day delivery at a cheaper price.
Also, sending the e-mail to the UK to send it to the Continent might be faster than air mail from the United States - though delivery times aren't guaranteed once the letter gets into the international postal system.
After registering at the Web site, www.RelayOne.msn.com, the user e-mails their message, with the delivery address, to the Royal Mail. That will then be sent by the normal postal service to the required address, anywhere in the world, while the charge is levied to the user's credit card.
Anybody using the service won't have to worry about nosy postal workers reading their e-mail. All the work, from downloading the words to stuffing the envelopes, will be done by machines.
Richard Dyke, managing director of the Royal Mail, said the service is "the human face of technology, combining the best of computer wizardry with the traditional tried and trusted method of hand delivery by the postman."
The Royal Mail also said it had no immediate estimates about the volume of mail that will be handled.