Ray Tomlinson, inventor of email, passes away aged 74

March 7, 2016 // 3:17 p.m.

Tags: #arpanet #batch-processing #computer-history #electronic-mail #email #history #obituary #raytheon #ray-tomlinson #time-sharing

Ray Tomlinson, the first person to send an electronic mailing between two networked computers, has died aged 74 years old.

Tomlinson made his impact on the modern world in two ways: in 1971 he developed a method of sending electronic mail, or email as we now know it, between two different computers connected via a network; he also chose the at (@) symbol as the indicator that a message should be routed to a named separate host, rather than kept on the same system - an address format we maintain to this very day.

Prior to Tomlinson's work, electronic mail was used exclusively on a local machine. Long before there was a PC on every desk, let alone every pocket, computers were big, expensive things shared by multiple individuals in either batch-processing or time-sharing modes. Email was used as a means for these users to communicate, but if you wanted to send a message to a user on a different computer you would need to physically connect to, and have an account on, that computer.

Tomlinson's innovation, enshrined in the Advanced Research Projects Agency's ARPANET, the precursor to the modern Internet, allowed users to send emails to each other across multiple networked nodes by simply appending the node name to the user's account name with the at symbol. For ARPANET users, it was little short of revolutionary: suddenly inter-department communication was quick and easy, and collaboration throughout various buildings could be achieved without the laborious process of signing on to multiple individual computer systems and typing out your message yet again.

'It is with great sadness we acknowledge the passing of our colleague and friend, Ray Tomlinson. A true technology pioneer, Ray was the man who brought us email in the early days of networked computers,' Tomlinson's employer Raytheon said in a statement issued late last night. 'His work changed the way the world communicates and yet, for all his accomplishments, he remained humble, kind and generous with his time and talents, He will be missed by one and all.'
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