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Internet Pioneer Postel Dies

Article from the Los Angeles Times

By TED BRIDIS, Associated Press Writer

OCTOBER 17, 20:19 EDT, WASHINGTON (AP) — Jon Postel, the Internet pioneer who wielded enormous influence managing technical details of the global computer network, has died of complications from heart surgery in Los Angeles, friends in Washington said Saturday. He was 55.

Postel, considered by the Clinton administration to be a crucial player in the future of the Internet, died Friday night while recovering from surgery to replace a leaking heart valve, said Vint Cerf, a senior vice president for MCI Worldcom Inc. who worked closely with Postel.

The death also was announced Saturday at an Internet conference in Barcelona, said Bill Semich, the president of .nu domain, another Internet company.

Postel's death comes at a critical juncture for the Internet, with the federal government in the midst of largely turning over management of the worldwide network to a non-profit group that Postel helped organize.

Though Postel worked behind the scenes and was hardly known outside high-tech circles, his role as director of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority allowed the Internet to match unique numerical addresses for computers on the global network with its millions of Web addresses, such as www.ap.org.

So powerful was Postel that ``The Economist'' once dubbed him ``god'' of the Internet.

``Jon was a very private person and didn't seek the limelight at all,'' said Cerf, who attended high school with Postel in California. ``He preferred to exercise his stewardship role in a very quiet but competent way.''

``Being famous never drove Jon,'' agreed another longtime friend, David Farber, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. ``He had tremendous influence, people respected his intellect.''

Earlier this year, Postel drew sharp criticism but demonstrated his influence when he redirected half the Internet's 12 directory-information computers to his own system. He told federal officials afterward he was running a test to see how smoothly such a transition could be made.

A researcher at the University of Maryland at College Park, which controls one of those computers, told The Washington Post: ``If Jon asks us to point somewhere else, we'll do it. He is the authority here.''

Cerf said Postel underwent a heart-valve replacement in 1991, but the replacement value started to leak about 10 days ago. He was quickly hospitalized for surgery and was recovering when he died suddenly.

``One minute he was alert and laughing about a joke, and the next minute he was gone,'' Cerf said. ``It was very fast.''

Postel, who was unmarried with no children, was intensely private. When a recent trade publication profiled him and told him readers were interested in his personal life, he answered: ``If we tell them, they won't be interested anymore.''

Cerf said Postel is survived by a brother, Mort Postel, who lives in Los Angeles with his wife.