08 March 2016

Ray Tomlinson Was One of My Heroes

If you are not a geek, you probably said "Ray who"?

Ray Tomlinson, who passed away yesterday, was the inventor of the ubiquitous email.

He wrote its protocol (SMTP), developed the first email program (SNDMSG) and perhaps most importantly, grabbed the seldom used @ key to denote the address.

Although email is the most popular application of all time by a huge margin, Tomlinson never made a dime.

And that is why he was one of my heroes. Not because he didn't make money off of his invention but because he proved that the patent trolls' argument is rubbish.

You see, conservatives always maintain that Intellectual Property (IP) needs to be protected and very richly remunerated because otherwise nobody would bother with inventing things.

I always counter this with the argument that, well protected IP, far from being a motivator, is usually a hindrance to further progress.

Do you remember CompuServe or AOL? They were known as walled gardens. If Internet was not a public utility, we would still be in those gardens. And we would have a fraction of the current Internet content.

And we would be paying dearly for the privilege.

Bil Gates became a multibillionnaire by licensing to IBM a program developed by a guy named Tim Paterson and in the process his company Microsoft blocked most PC-related inventions for over a decade.

Ray Tomlinson invented a new method of communication and gave it to the world with a smile.

We need more Tomlinsons.

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