Editorial: Silent Passing

This past October 16, Jonathan B. Postel died of complications following cardiac surgery. He was only 55. At the time of his death, many of us didn’t even know who he was and what he did for the computer industry. In fact, even today, most of us still wouldn’t recognize his name. His image was never featured on the cover of Wired magazine, nor was he asked to appear on any late night talk shows, nor had people thrown pies at him as he walked into his office. And although many Web sites darkened as tribute, the man The Economist once referred to as a "god" of the Internet, Jon Postel passed away as privately as he lived.

He was born on August 6, 1943, in Altadena, Calif. He received a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in engineering and a doctorate in computer science from UCLA. He was unmarried and had no children.

At UCLA, Postel, along with a group of graduate students - including Vint Cerf, Steve Crocker, and Bill Naylor - worked on connecting the first Interface Message Processor with the university’s host computer.

In 1969, as a 25-year-old grad student, Postel became a researcher for the Defense Department funded - Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANet). He was responsible for the Network Management Center, which operates out of the Information Sciences Institute at the UCLA, which included testing and analyzing the new computer-based communication system, which evolved into the Internet. Postel would later write the first telnet program.

As creator of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) almost 30 years ago, Postel assigned all the numbers that go with Internet domain names around the world, earning him yet another the title -- "Father of the Internet," in many people’s opinion.

However, according to those who knew him, these monikers were never taken seriously by Dr. Postel. For Postel didn’t seek the limelight or fame. However, he was sometimes drawn into public controversy, when segments of the industry questioned the legal authority of the IANA and threatened suit.

The Clinton administration expected Postel to play a crucial role in the future of the Internet, as the Federal government essentially turns over management of the world-wide network to a private non-profit company that Postel helped form.

Although I never knew the man, Jon Postel’s death made me remember something about this industry. That despite the technology, the computers and the networks, it’s still people with the foresight and inspiration who not only make systems work today, but provide a path for growth and development, that drive the industry.

Was Postel always right? Was the man "a god?" Is any one a god? Hardly.

But Postel exemplified the pioneering vision that a few standouts in this industry share. A vision that will effect a generation of Internet users, whether we remember his name or not.