They had this big mainframe computer that was mainly only used during business hours. Being bean-counters, they wondered if they could monetize the thing during off-hours. Somebody came up with the idea of letting folks log into their computer over a modem, and the whole thing took off.
The service was called CompuServ. For an hourly rate, you could get an email address that looked like: 1235123.122245. It could only communicate with other folks on CompuServ. But that’s OK because there really wasn’t any other civilian use of email going on at the time.
And there were forums, like bulletin boards, where folks could carry on cyber-conversations. And you could upload and download files at 1200 bits per second!
Now imagine that somehow you had a digitized photo or maybe a ray-traced image that you’d been working on for weeks. Obviously you wanted to share it with all your friends on CompuServ. But as a TIFF file it was like over 1000 kilobites! So huge! It’ll take over 33 minutes to upload that file! And you’re being charged in 1 minute increments (if I recall correctly…).
So Steve Wilhite created an image file format that was 8 bits deep, so it only had 256 colors per picture, and those bits were compressed by LZW encoding. Now that same image, well an image very similar to that same image, but with fewer colors, could be uploaded in maybe only 3 minutes! Fantastic, huh? Compared to the other way it uploaded in a jiffy! Or in a jif! That’s why .gif is pronounced like jif.
But then along came the big bad Internet. Suddenly Unisys says, “Hey, we own the rights to LZW encoding and you all owe us Meeelions of dollars!” They were playing hardball. And that’s when .gif started being pronounced with a hard G, as in the first sound of “gouge”.
No really. On CompuServ the correct way to pronounce it is with the soft G. On the hard Internet, where fast is taken for granted, you have to use the hard G. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. The brouhaha is over. Unless you’re still time-sharing with that dial-up modem, use the hard G.
I love solving problems.