American programmer Ray Tomlinson has died last Saturday in an apparent heart attack. Tomlinson is one of he pioneers of and considered the father of modern email. He was especially famous because he had resurrected the hardly used @ character from the ASCII code to be used in a new messaging protocol that allowed a mail message to be sent from one computer to another.
Ramlinson received numerous awards for his development and was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame. In addition, he is among the 150 most important inventors at MIT.
In the 1960’s there was the possibility of e-mails over the ARPAnet (the predecessor of the Internet). In 1971 Tomlinson joined the email client SNDMSG, with which one could leave a user on the same computer a message with CPYNET. That year was important as he had made a program that made it possible to send messages between different hosts.
Tomlinson came therefore to the idea of combining the user’s name and the computer or server name through a dying character: the @ symbol. The email address was born. Email is still one of the most important applications of the Internet. Even the increasing number of mails containing viruses and spam has not hurt the popularity of the service.
So we have the means to send messages and an email address, but what was the first email message? According to Ray, “Probably QWERTYUIOP or something similar”, he wrote on his website. In testing, the transmission of mail occurred between two computers back and forth on the same floor. Later he then sent an email to the members of his group and explains the program. “The first benefit of networked email is to announce its own existence to” Tomlinson wrote.
The @ symbol has now become so popular that the Museum of Modern Arts (MOMA) in New York already dedicated an exhibition to him in 2010; Because the @ has become an important part of our identity in the relationship and communication with others.
Up until 1971 the @ was used both as an abbreviation for “in” and for “at a rate of” and was mainly in accounting and invoices. Tomlinson thus concluded it would be logical of combining user to host.
Ray Tomlinson was 74 when he passed.