A 10-minute history of the Internet: Al Gore - Present

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During an interview on CNN’s “Late Edition” in 2000, Vice President Al Gore uttered the infamous assertion,

Al

“During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.”

Did Al Gore invent the Internet? Although Al Gore did help support the growth and development of the Internet, he did not create it. This article will explain how the Internet was not created by one person, but through several organizations and key innovations that allowed for a broad network of computers known as the World Wide Web that we have today.

In the Beginning: Before the Internet (1959-1968)

While mainstream Internet is still a new and evolving technology, the idea of computers linked together over long distances has been around since the late 50’s. In response to the launch of Sputnik (the first man made satellite), the United States government formed an organization called Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) within the Department of Defense for the development of science and technology applicable to the military.

One of the main tasks ARPA was involved in was a way to maintain command and control over missiles and bombers after a nuclear attack. This network had to be able to survive a nuclear strike, which meant it had to be decentralized so that if any locations in the U.S. were attacked, the military could still have control of the nuclear arms for a counter-attack. Decentralized sound familiar? This idea is one of the first that led to the Internet.

From LA to Utah… and Beyond (1968 – 1973)

In 1969, the first physical network was constructed, linking The University of Los Angeles, SRI in Stanford, The University of Santa Barbara and The University of Utah. This primitive network was connected via 50 Kbps (Kilo bytes per second) circuits. Soon after in 1970, several more universities and research labs including Harvard, Carnegie-Mellon, and NASA began connecting a not quite World Wide Web together. This network or connection of computers at the time was called ARPANET.

A Host of Protocols (1973-1983)

Up until 1973, computers used a primitive method to transfer data between computers called the Network Control Protocol or NCP. This protocol allowed communication between hosts running on the same network. Computers connect to each other and “talk” based on the kind of protocol they use. The downside of NCP was that it only allowed computers to talk with each other if they were on the same network.

In 1973, development began on the protocol TCP/IP. This was a major step towards a world wide web because TCP/IP would allow diverse computer networks to interconnect and communicate with each other. Between 1973 and 1983, many other protocols were created for specific uses, ie UUCP (Unix to Unix CoPy) created by AT&T for distribution with UNIX or BITNET created by IBM.

TCP/IP in 1973 was mandatory for a computer to communicate with on the ARPANET and by 1983, NCP was completely replaced by TCP/IP. The term Internet was first used to define a connected set of networks, specifically those using TCP/IP.

The Advance of DNS and T1 1.5 Mbps Lines (1983-1988)

The next big step was the creation of Domain Name System (DNS). DNS allowed packets to be directed to a domain name, which would be translated by the server database into the corresponding IP number. This introduced IP addresses, unique domains, and an easier way to automatically communicate between networks.

In 1984, a new method of transferring data was developed called T1, which would transfer data at a speed of 1.5 Mbps – 25 times faster than the older 56 Kbps lines. These new T1 lines were implemented by 1988. Because of this faster connection, more networks began to form together. BITNET and CSNET merged to form the Corporation for Research and Educational Networking (CREN). These mergers, along with the rapid expansion of ARPANET, created a need for lines even faster than the new T1.

Merit, IBM and MCI Creating a Non-Profit Company (1990)

In 1990, due to the need of a faster connection than the T1 line to allow networks to communicate, Merit, IBM and MCI formed a non-profit corporation called ANS, Advanced Network & Services. ANS was in charge of researching high-speed networking and soon came up with the concept of the T3, a 45 Mbps line.
This new line was immediately adopted by the Department of Defense. ARPANET and its 50 Kbps lines were completely disbanded and replaced with NSFNET, which used the new T3 line as a backbone.

Over 1 Million Connected Through the Internet and the World Wide Web (1992 – 1993)

By 1992, the NSFNET backbone was completely upgraded to T3 and was the main connection between most networks connected as an Internet. This connection was still not yet used commercially and was primarily used by the military, universities or other big business for research and education. Also, it was not until 1993 that Mosaic was developed. Mosaic was the first graphical browser, basically the first Netscape or Microsoft Internet Explorer. By the end of 1993, the Internet connected over 2 million users.
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Pizza Hut and the WWW Commercial Revolution (1994)

Prior to 1994, the Internet was realized as a major source for information. Major associations like the U.N and the White House began to create personal areas online. However in 1994, there was a giant shift of focus when business and media realized the potential of the Internet to get out their message or their products to virtually anyone around the world. Pizza Hut offered pizza ordering on its Web page, shopping malls allowed virtual shopping, and banks allowed virtual lending. The number of hosts reached 3 million, with 10,000 WWW sites and over 10,000 news groups.

More Commercialization, and the Birth of AOL (1995)

Between 1994 and 1995 the number of hosts on the Internet doubled to 6.5 million. More importantly the National Science Foundation, not wanting to have to host this massive commercial enterprise on their NSFNET, no longer allows direct access to its backbone (remember the original T3 lines?).

AOL

Once a novelty, now used for drink coasters

The main US backbone traffic was routed through interconnected network providers. Companies such as America Online, CompuServe and Prodigy begin offering dial-up systems for providing access to the Internet in the home. Domain names were no longer being registered for free; for $50, one could have their own space on the Internet.

Microsoft, AOL and the Evolution of Dial-Up (1996)

Microsoft alone has influenced the Internet with its Internet Explorer. Beginning with Windows 98, Microsoft has integrated its own Explorer into every operating system, making Internet Explorer one of the most widely used browsers in the world.

The growth of the Internet is best represented by AOL’s acquisition of Time-Warner, the largest merger in history when it took place. AOL has continued as an original service provider from the conception of a commercial Internet, and even to this day helps to direct which avenues the Internet will follow next.

Physically connecting to the Internet evolved. From dial up modems to DSL and cable, it became increasingly cheaper to access online content faster. The DSLCable company providers at the time made up a very small number of dial up subscribers. These faster connections allow for business, games, video and more to be done in real time and was destined to become the norm.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1996 – 2005)

With the basic framework of the Internet in place, the Internet itself has not changed much in the past ten years. The basic backbone of the T3 lines are still used and the same TCPIP protocols define how computers communicate.

What has changed is the way the Internet has been used through technological improvements. These improvements include new languages for programming web pages, search engines and blogging. Not all of the technological advances can be considered good. File sharing, which has spawned some very important and useful ways to be able to share data across the Internet, has also been abused through piracy.

Lastly, the world is not a perfect place, and neither is the Internet. Popping up inside the golden lining is spam, and worse yet, the viruses.

Webpage Languages

HTML is still fairly common and is the most widely used language to create a web page. HTML has been around since the beginning of web development and has evolved from version 1.0 to HTML 4.1. However, starting January 2000, XHTML was officially released as the new language to replace HTML. XHTML and HTML are almost identical as languages; however, HTML needed to be replaced because HTML can only be read on Internet browsers, ie Microsoft Internet Explorer.

XHTML however, cannot only run on Internet browsers, but also on mobile phones and hand held devices. XHTML pages can be read by all devices and is completely backwards compatible, which means that anything that can read HTML can also read XHTML. This is important because it closes the gap between the Internet on the personal computer and the Internet of cell phones and PDA’s.

Search Engines

Search engines play a huge role in the Internet but get very little notoriety. As pointed out earlier, the Internet is made up by an interconnection of very fast servers. Each of these servers is made up of computers whose purpose is to store data.

Basically, a server is a computer filled with lots of very fast hard drives. The capacity of these servers has increased exponentially as the Internet has grown bigger from gigabytes to terabytes (a terabyte is 100 gigabytes). All the information on the Internet is stored in these servers, and it takes time for this information to be sorted out.

When a search engine is used, a person types something they want to know, or a query. The search engine searches through an index it has created of web pages to quickly return to the person all the relevant data for the query inputted. The technology of these search engines is different, and more robust technology allows for faster and more relevant searches. One of the most recent and most popular search engines is Google. Google is popular because the technology that drives it allows for very fast searches, and the search comes up with information that is relevant to the query.{mospagebreak}

Blogging

One of the most recent and fastest expanding uses of the Internet is blogging. The word blog or blogging originated from the word weblog, which is a little more self-explanatory. A weblog simply put is an online journal. Weblogs have been around since the early 90’s but only recently have they become popular.

Weblogs have become popular because they are a simple way of communicating with a large number of people. For a group of friends, it has become a way to gossip. For a celebrity, it can be used to communicate on a personal level with their fans.

Another characteristic of the blog is the ability to make comments. This allows a more diverse journal, where a discussion is created out of every entry. Blogging has been called a phenomena because where it once was a niche technology, overnight it became mainstream with millions of bloggers online.

Piracy

Ever heard of pirating and the music industry complaining of declining CD sales due to file sharing and P2P networks?

What they are referring to are the ways people can share files from virtually anywhere in the world by connecting to the Internet. The most infamous and now commercialized Napster was the first major file-sharing program. Napster was created in 1999 by Shawn Fanning, an 18-year-old college dropout. His program allowed people to search for files and share them, and ever since the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has tried to sue individual users of Napster for copyright infringement for the music files traded.

After Napster, there have been several similar programs and new techniques to share files. Some of the more popular are Kazaa, torrents, and IRC. All of these are different technologies with the same purpose of sharing files. More recently, the movie industry has joined the fight with the RIAA to close down all illegal types of file sharing.

Spam

The term “spam” originated from very early chat rooms, when someone would insert the same word or phrase over and over in order to annoy other people. The term became better known in 1994 when an ad was posted on several thousand newsgroups on USENET, an online conferencing system. Spam now represents a host of annoying Internet entities, from junk mail to pop-ups.

The fight against spam includes programs to block pop-ups and filters for emails. However, it still is a constant hassle and a waste of time for everyone trying to use the Internet. Junk mail became such a problem that Congress passed legislature that made it mandatory for websites to not sell email addresses, and clearly state if they would use the email address for mailing lists. Also it has become illegal to make it impossible to discontinue being on a mailing list.

As the Internet evolves, spam has only gotten worse as advertisers have tried to figure out new ways to email ads about their products. Now more than just an annoyance, spam has become a problem which will require more work from Congress and changes in how the Internet functions in order to eliminate it completely.

Viruses

The date of the first virus is arguable because the term wasn’t coined until around 1986, when the “brain” virus affected IBM computers.

In 1988, the first anti-virus virus was written to remove the brain virus and immunize computers against the virus. As viruses continued to plague computers, anti-virus products began to become important to protect computers from attack. Originally viruses could only be transmitted between computers through floppy discs. With the popularity of the Internet, viruses could spread exponentially, from affecting a handful of people to millions.

Software companies like Symantec and Norton make millions of dollars with anti-virus software, but they are only effective against already known viruses. Though the Internet for the most part has been used as a means of quick communication and access to endless knowledge, it has also allowed for the spread of viruses.

Webpage programming languages, file sharing, search engines and blogging are just a few of the most recent and interesting technologies. The Internet, which now holds over 10 million domains and countless web pages, is still expanding. For example, the popularity of cell phones and the technology of connecting them to the Internet allows for further growth. What will we expect from it next?

The World of Tomorrow (2005 – …?)

What new developments will impact the Internet tomorrow, or next year?

Currently there are millions of people connected to the Internet, but there are billions of people in the world. As more people will become connected, the Internet will grow larger, and there will have to be new technologies to deal with the enormous amounts of data that come with this growth.

Though there is protection in place with firewalls and software, the Internet is still very vulnerable to viruses. Unless something can be done to change how the Internet functions, there will always be the possibility of widespread attacks through viruses with the potential of causing damage worldwide.

Eventually dial up will be a thing of the past, something to tell the grandkids about when it took more than a second for an Internet page to load. Will spam ever be eliminated? The way the current system works, it will not. Unless a major overhaul of how the Internet connects between computers, spam will always be a problem.

For the most part though, the Internet is a useful resource and has become a way of life for millions of people. As for the future, considering how technology and the Internet evolve, tomorrow will be a completely different place.

Steffan McMurrin

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