Stephen Wilhite, the inventor of the graphics interchange format, commonly referred to as ”GIF,” has died from complications due to COVID-19 at the age of 74, his wife told The Verge.
According to Wilhite’s obituary, ”even with all his accomplishments, he remained a very humble, kind, and good man.”
The inventor began working on GIF while employed at CompuServe in the 1980s. The technology, now used primarily to send animated internet memes, was not the original reason for the creation of the format.
CompuServe introduced GIF in 1987 to distribute ”high-quality, high-resolution graphics” in color at a time when internet speeds were far slower.
”He invented GIF all by himself — he actually did that at home and brought it into work after he perfected it,” Wilhite’s wife, Kathaleen, told the outlet. ”He would figure out everything privately in his head and then go to town programming it on the computer.”
The term ”GIF” gained mainstream appeal in the manner of a long-standing debate over how to pronounce the word — either with a hard g, as in ”got” — or a soft g, as in ”giraffe.”
Wilhite assured The New York Times in 2013 that even though the Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations, they were wrong.
”It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story,” he said at the time.
Around the early 2000s, Wilhite retired and began spending his time traveling, camping, and building model trains in his basement. Kathaleen told The Verge that Wilhite was surrounded by his family when he died.
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