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History

Contrary to common opinion, neither the Pentagon nor 1969 hold up as the time and place the Internet was invented. A project which began in the Pentagon that year, called Arpanet, gave birth to the Internet protocols sometime later (during the 1970's), but 1969 was not the Internet's beginnings.

Larry Roberts, who was employed by Bob Taylor to build the Arpanet network, states that Arpanet was never intended to link people or be a communications and information facility. Arpanet was about time-sharing.

Time sharing tried to make it possible for research institutions to use the processing power of other institutions computers when they had large calculations to do that required more power, or when someone else's facility might do the job better. It never really worked as an idea - for a start, all the computers had different operating systems and versions and programs, and using someone else's machine was very difficult: but as well, by the time some of these problems were being overcome, mini-computers had appeared on the scene and the economics of time sharing had changed dramatically.

So it's reasonable to say that ARPANET failed in its purpose, but in the process made some significant discoveries which were to result in the creation of the first Internet. These included email developments, packet switching implementations, and development of the Transport Control Protocol - Internet Protocol (TCP/IP).

TCP/IP, (Transport Control Protocol - Internet Protocol), the backbone standards which many people claim are the basis of determining what the Internet is, was developed in the 1970s in California by Vinton Cerf, Bob Kahn, Bob Braden, Jon Postel and other members of the Networking Group headed by Steve Crocker.

The sort of computers Arpanet was dealing with had very little power by today's standards. Only computer scientists used them. Computers with the power of modern day pocket calculators occupied whole floors of buildings. These monsters could only be afforded by large institutions.

It would take until the late 1970s for the personal computer to appear. Even so, for personal computers as well as mainframes, communication with other computers, and particularly other brands of computers, was an afterthought. It probably took the decade from 1983 to 1993 before anything like a sensible situation for computers to connect to the Internet emerged.

Ray Tomlinson is credited with inventing email in 1972, but in fact email is much older than that. Like many of the Internet inventors, Tomlinson worked for Bolt Beranek and Newman as an Arpanet contractor. He picked the @ symbol to denote sending messages from one computer to another. So then, for anyone using Internet standards, it was simply a matter of nominating <username>@<hostcomputername>. Email soon became the Internet's first "killer application".

In many ways, Internet adoption was about the path of least resistance. In the beginnings, governments wanted a completely different set of standards called OSI - but industry and governments could not agree on the details. There was a real mess out there, and no agreement on how to get out of it.

The dominant standards body that should have been interested in this problem was CCITT (Consultative Committee on International Telegraphy and Telephony) of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), but they were essentially not interested in computers and software in the beginning, and when they did become interested, became committed to the ill-fated OSI track. So the Internet community had to devise its own way of dealings with standards.

This is probably where internet governance began to grow and formalise as a unique identity. A system called RFCs (Requests for Comment) was set up by Steve Crocker, and out of the network of engineers submitting and commenting on RFCs the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) evolved as a standards body.

Then the World Wide Web came along, and offered a much improved user interface and some substantial new applications. Every year from 1994 to 2000, the Internet saw massive growth. The Internet era had begun. The rest of the story is likely to be well known to most readers of this document.

These origins are important to our understanding because they help to explain how the Internet evolved. In particular, what we discover from a basic understanding of history is that the original protocols were introduced for a world which


It would be abnormal if protocols of this age and this difference of purpose were not, to all intents and purposes, legacy systems.
 

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