ISI Pioneer's Internet Legacy Celebrated in Computerworld

July 10, 2007

Jon Postel is saluted as one of "the 10 IT People Who Mattered in the Past 40 Years" in the 40th anniversary issue of the widely-read publication

Postel, (1943-1998) "helped create and document numerous standards and protocols for the Internet, including TCP/IP, SNMP and DNS. He is hailed as 'the shepherd of the Internet," according to the feature spread in the July issue of the magazine.

The story identifies him as "Director, computer networks division, University of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute."

For years, he was the editor of the RFC, requests for comments, the interactive process through which the rules governing the Internet evolved.

Working with Paul Mockpetris at ISI, he created the now universally used domain name system (.com, .edu...) Following his death, the Postel Center for Experimental Networking was established at ISI.

Postel's guiding philsophy is often quoted: ""Be liberal in what you accept, and conservative in what you send."

A 1998 USC memorial story noted the reach of his influence:

Most people did not learn about the profound impact that Internet pioneer Jon Postel had on their lives until after his untimely death last October. It is a truism that no one controls the Internet.

But if anyone did control it, that man was Jon Postel. Indeed, in 1997 the Economist hailed the bearded, bespectacled and sandal-clad scientist as the omnipotent, omniscient unmoved mover of cyberspace. "If the Net does have a god," the British newsmagazine proclaimed, "he is probably Jon Postel."

If so, the Net's god is dead.

Netizens the world over have mourned the passing of this unpretentious giant who for a quarter century quietly stoked the cyber-machinery from his command post at the USC School of Engineering's Marina Del Rey-based Information Sciences Institute.

At the memorial held in Bovard Auditorium in November, President Bill Clinton's words - read by his senior Internet policy advisor, Ira Magaziner - summed up the immense service that Postel had performed:

"Though his life was too brief, Jon Postel made enormous contributions to the course of human progress. As a computer scientist, engineer and designer, he played a pivotal role in the creation of the ARPAnet and its descendant, the Internet. With vision, intelligence and a rigorous insistence on simplicity and elegance of design, he helped to establish and manage the Internet's growth and development.

Because of his efforts, people across America and around the world have virtually unlimited access to a universe of knowledge."

Most people did not learn about the profound impact that Internet pioneer Jon Postel had on their lives until after he died Oct. 16 in a Santa Monica hospital of complications following emergency heart surgery.

Postel's bushy beard, long hair and eccentric attire were far more likely to get noticed than his work. Indeed, in one of several moments of levity during the memorial service, Magaziner recalled a White House meeting with Postel that was delayed 20 minutes because it took that long to persuade Secret Service agents to let the subversive-looking scientist through.

Looking around a room filled with buttoned-down bureaucrats, Magaziner said, "I remember thinking, 'These people care so much about their place in history, but there's no one in this dining room that history is going to remember except Jon Postel.' "

"It is not enough to say that Jon will be greatly missed," said ISI executive Herbert Schorr, "His presence enriched ISI immeasurably in many ways. In addition to his internationally renowned work with the Internet, Jon played a key role in creating and maintaining ISI's creative and nurturing environment for research, technical and support staff. He is irreplaceable."