The Internet was “in part a technical vision,” wrote the London-based Financial Times in its obituary of Postel. But it [was] also an ideological one, requiring a humanistic commitment to freedom of expression and to a medium of communication that rises above the interests of government and commerce.”
Postel worked to keep Internet standards and protocols consistent, open and free. “The fact that nobody actually owns the Net is no accident,” The New York Times noted in its obituary. Crocker told the paper that Postel “was always balanced, fair and conscientious of the good people who kept things working.”
In addition to editing the RFC series — which numbers more than 2,500 — Postel directly helped develop many Internet protocols, including DNS, File Transfer, Telnet and the basic Internet Protocol (IP) itself.
“His taste in design was by and large extraordinary,” said Cerf, “and yet he did it in a way that you were only barely conscious that he was nudging you toward better design. As the rest of the Internet unfolds, we’re going to discover that Jon isn’t there to remind us what good taste means.”
In July 1998, Postel received the International Telecommunication Union’s prestigious silver medal in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the development of the Global Information Infrastructure through his management of IANA. Cerf said that the award is normally reserved for heads of state.
At the time of his unexpected death, ironically, Postel was engaged in an attempt to preserve his legacy. The Internet — now a mighty market force — had in recent years been subject to commercially motivated attacks and bids to corrupt the under-
lying principles of free access and open exchange.
Throughout 1998, Postel worked hard on perhaps his grandest consensus — the transition of IANA into an international, self-governing organization with broad representation from commercial, consumer and academic interests. In effect, he was working to privatize the Net.
His proposal to William Daley, U.S. Secretary of Commerce, to replace the government-funded IANA with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) was formally incorporated two weeks before his death. Magaziner has accepted the basic proposal but expects the final plan to include further comments that the government has received.

At the time of Postel’s death, ISI’s Computer Networks Division, which he directed, had become the prime contractor for a $21 million project funded by the National Science Foundation to accom-modate the Internet’s rapid growth.
“It is not enough to say that Jon will be greatly missed,” said Herbert Schorr, ISI’s executive director. “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.”
Dying at the young age of 55, Postel became the first of the “original Internauts” to pass away. “If you believe there is a heaven, as I do,” said Magaziner in a gentle touch of humor during the memorial service, “it strikes me that since the Internet has already gone everywhere else, it should be there too. Jon can get to work on the Internet addressing system up there so when his friends join him, they’ll know where to find him.”

Farewell Flight
“In the memory of Jon Postel!”
With those words spoken by Postel’s brother Thomas, a small group on the stage of Bovard Auditorium — including a senior advisor to the president of the United States, a high-tech company vice president, a university president, close friends and family members — launched a flight of paper airplanes at members of the audience. The missiles were actual pages from the RFC series, and those non-computer scientists who opened them were, for the most part, baffled by the contents.
But they could search the Internet to understand.




Related Links

USC's Information Systems Institute's Postel Memorial

 Ira Magaziner, White House senior Internet policy adviser, speaks at Jonathan Postel's memorial service, while USC President Steven B. Sample looks on.

Postel's brothers Rus and Thomas and their mother, Lois, launch paper airplanes at the audience.

Magaziner Photo by Irene Fertik;

Postel Brothers by Con Keyes: Los Angeles Times Photo

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