Artifact Details


Vittal, John oral history

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John Vittal is best known for having created one of the very first modern, integrated email programs, MSG, which would deepen email’s hold as the initial “killer application” on the net. He also helped develop email standards still in use today.

Born and raised in Southern California, he went to Brigham Young University as an undergraduate before graduate studies in Computer Science at UC Irvine. He then joined ISI (USC's Information Sciences institute), which was heavily involved in early networking with ARPA.

Since the early 1960s email and messaging had existed in various forms on timesharing systems, where multiple users share a single computer. As ARPANET began to connect different computers and their groups of users together for the first time, ways of sending email across the network began exploding in popularity.

But early networked email lacked many convenient features familiar today, like being able to organize messages and easily reply or forward. ARPANET users had to do a lot of hand copying and formatting to manage their mail, for example using Ray Tomlinson’s SNDMSG program to send it, and Larry Roberts’ separate RD program to read it. Vittal's 1974 MSG program combined these and other functions into a single, convenient package, establishing a model used by email programs up to the present.

Vittal soon moved to BBN (Bolt, Beranek and Newman) in the Boston area for further work on email funded by ARPA (Advanced Resarch Projects Agency). BBN had developed critical hardware and software for ARPANET, a key part of the later Internet. He participated in a number of early working groups and standards committees for email, while his main professional work gradually moved to other interests including AI, user experience, transportable programming, and project management. In 1982 he moved to Xerox where he managed the group that provided consulting and training services around AI.

As a senior research manager at GTE from the late ‘80s through the ‘90s, he saw messaging and other connected functions reach the masses. There, at Verizon and later he managed a wide range of research and development groups, served on many boards and as an advisor to a wide range of startup companies on both business and technical issues.

Vittal has had numerous publications, and been an invited speaker at many national and international conferences. He has been a member of Internet Society, IETF, ACM, IEEE, and American Association of Artificial Intelligence.

Vittal worked with ARPAnet and Internet pioneer Elizabeth “Jake” Feinler to create the Email Bibliographic Timeline, which since 2022 is in the Museum’s collection along with many of the documents it cites




Vittal, John, Interviewee
Weber, Marc, Interviewer


Computer History Museum

Place of Publication

Mountain View, CA


42 p.






email; MSG; SNDMSG; Internet; ARPANET; BBN; ISI; PARC (Palo Alto Research Center)


Computer History Museum

Lot Number


Related Records

102806104 Email innovation timeline
102738252Vittal, John oral history