E-mail inventor Ray Tomlinson dies at 74

US programmer Ray Tomlinson arriving prior to the presentation of the Prince of Asturias awards in Oviedo Spain on Oct 22, 2009.
US programmer Ray Tomlinson arriving prior to the presentation of the Prince of Asturias awards in Oviedo Spain on Oct 22, 2009. PHOTO: AFP

UNITED STATES (AFP) - Mr Ray Tomlinson, the American programmer widely credited with inventing e-mail, has died. He was 74.

Before Mr Tomlinson invented direct electronic messages between users on different machines on a certain network in 1971, users could only write messages to others using the same computer.

"A true technology pioneer, Ray was the man who brought us e-mail in the early days of networked computers," his employer, Raytheon, said in a statement.

"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."

A company spokesman said Mr Tomlinson died on Saturday, and the cause of death was not yet confirmed.

Tributes poured in from the online world.

"Thank you, Ray Tomlinson, for inventing email and putting the @ sign on the map. #RIP," Google's Gmail team tweeted.

Mr Vint Cerf, considered one of the fathers of the Internet who was once a manager of the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), lamented the "very sad news" of Mr Tomlinson's death.

When Mr Tomlinson invented the user@host standard for e-mail addresses, it was applied at Darpa's Arpanet, the Internet's precursor. He was the first to use the @ symbol in this way, to distinguish a user from its host.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate detailed his creation on his blog, in an attempt to prevent legend from overtaking the facts.

"The first message was sent between two machines that were literally side by side" connected only through Arpanet, he wrote on his blog.

"I sent a number of test messages to myself from one machine to the other. The test messages were entirely forgettable and I have, therefore, forgotten them.

"Most likely the first message was QWERTYUIOP or something similar," he added, referring to the first letters on the traditional English-language keyboard.

"When I was satisfied that the program seemed to work, I sent a message to the rest of my group explaining how to send messages over the network. The first use of network e-mail announced its own existence."