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a brief history of the Internet.

The official story of the Internet was that it was started in the late 1960’s by the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA, or DARPA). The project was started to allow contractors to share valuable computing resources. At that time, computers were very primitive, and extremely expensive, so any increased communication, that we now take for granted, using a network was extremely beneficial.

The birth of the ARPA project was in 1962 by a fellow named J.C.R. Licklider of MIT in August 1962. He provided a series of memos for what he called the “Galactic Network” concept.

Licklider thought up a globally connected world where people could quickly access data and programs from any location.

This original concept and the concept for many years to come was based on having many large scale computers all over talking to one another. This turned out to be not a feasible task due to the lack of acceptable technology until sometime in the early 1970’s.

the Internet, and the C programming language and the UNIX operating system

According to some, the Internet’s birth was the birth of the C programming language, and the UNIX operating system.

Dennis Ritchie, and Ken Thompson worked together on the C programming language on some discarded DEC PDP-7 computers. Ken and Dennis are rumoured to have lots of fun in those days, and in creating and using this variant language loosely based on BCPL, developed by Martin Richards, and B, developed by Ken Thompson, Ken and Dennis not only developed C, but also helped develop the UNIX operating system, developed by Ken Thompson in 1970 using B.

As Ken and Dennis, working in California at Bell Labratories in Berkley, perfected their creation, the United States Department of Defence (the ARPA and later DARPA project) began to take notice of their work, and eventually became the clients of Bell Labratories in the early 1970s.

Ken’s UNIX operating system was a perfect match to further the ARPA projects goal, and though Ken and Dennis had some great technology at their fingertips, it is also rumoured that Dennis, in his late twenties at the time, had much earlier created a “back-door” in the operating system so that he could get into any UNIX machine that he wanted to. This was by far probably the least malicious “back-door” to ever appear on any computer system, but, when the United Stated Department of Defence found out about this, the heads rolled and Dennis was out of a job to save face. He was quickly hired back, however, and (in 2004) is having an extremely successful career, and is the author of one of the most revered books in the history of programming languages: “the C Programming Language” by Brian Kernighan, and Dennis Ritchie published by Prentice Hall in 1978.

Even today UNIX, and C seem to never die out with at least millions of C programs written over the years, and C hugely anchored in all variants of UNIX that I know of, and certainly all variants of the popular Linux operating system (more on that later).

Thanks Ken, Brian, and Dennis for all your hard work over the years!

birth of the Internet

Perhaps the first actual “networking” on the ARPA project was by S. Crocker’s group who developed the ARPANET Host-to-Host protocol, called the Network Control Protocol (NCP).

In October 1972, Kahn, of the ARPA project, showed off the ARPANET to a large audience and also showed a very “hot” tool that the network could use called “email”. ARPANET email was pioneered in March 1972 by Ray Tomlinson at BBN, and later perfected by Roberts in July 1972.

Email was a fantastic advancement in communication over the phone, and allowed the early creators of the Internet to discuss and document, in great detail, the actual development of the network.

In the late 1970’s, technological advances allowed computers to become less expensive, and much smaller. Of note were the Radio Shack computers that were available in the late 1970’s, and the “Commodore 64’s” that were available later. At the time these machines allowed us to play simple lunar landing space games similar to the one developed by Ken Thompson in the early 1970’s, and had an extremely small memory originally loaded by magnetic cassette tapes: a huge advancement of the paper hungry mainframes of the time.

To put this in perspective, the “advanced” commodore 64 had “large” magnetic disks (floppy disks), that could load word processing programs and games into the 64 kilobytes of memory that the computer had. In 2004 we now load programs into our computers from high capacity drives to typical memories such as a giga byte, or a billion bytes of data. Networking with these “personal computers” was not available for several years

As these computers developed, and as the computer and software companies blossomed in the 1980’s, the Internet and DARPANET was still not known by many. While many interconnection systems developed using 300 baud modems and “bulletin boards”, the Internet was quietly developing in the background.

The development of Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) allowed stable communication to occur for programs on top of the Internet, and the Internet protocol (IP) was also developed to allow for TCP to “ride” on top of yet another stable communication medium. With the Internet protocol, came the definition of three network classes (A, B, and C). At the time just before the popular emergence of the personal computer, the creators envisioned that there could only be way less than 4 294 967 296 computers on this network. This version of IP was called IPV4, and is still remarkably prevalent today in spite of the massive number of devices that use the Internet: probably now far exceeding 4 billion. The next rendition is called Internet Protocol Version 6 or IPV6 for short, and allows for 128 bit addressing, or 2 to the power of 128, or 3.40282e+38 devices on the network. Unfortunately the transition to IPV6 is taking a VERY long time. Not surprisingly, the most use of the protocol is currently in China, and the next global IPV6 summit will be in Beijing in April, 2004, although the North American IPv6 Task Force should be huge as well and “will strive to be the guiding force for IPv6 adoption in the U.S. and Canada”.

the commercial Internet

As described by the “DNS and BIND” book by Paul Albitz & Cricket Liu published by O’Rielly, in 1988 DARPA “decided that the experiment was over”. The Internet transitioned to the publicly funded National Science Foundation or NSFNET. This was really an interesting time for the Internet, and it started to blossom into the academic world. In 1988, a year before I graduated from University, in fact, I recall the birth of many UNIX labs including SUN microsystem based labs, HP UNIX labs all inter-networked, and sometimes if you were a higher up, actually connected to the Internet itself. Also of note was Xenix lab that boasted a poor UNIX operating system on an Intel based PC. The executives of the company of the descendant operating system of Xenix were later known by some as greedy fellows.

In 1995, NSFNET was transferred to the commercially funded communication links owned by companies such as MCI, Sprint, PSINet, and UUNET.

birth of the open source movement

Stepping back in time again to the 70’s. Kahn developed the idea of an open-architecture network, in which “the individual networks may be separately designed and developed and each may have its own unique interface which it may offer to users and/or other providers”.

It was from this point on that everyone wanted to be “open”. In the 90’s the open buzzword was used to death, but the most important effort to come out of the early Internet in 1985 was by a man named Richard Stallman. Richard is a very colourful guy. Besides Dennis Ritchie, and Ken Thompson, Richard is, in my humble opinion, the first true “hacker” – a self-deprecating reference to “hack writers” not to be confused with a nasty computer break and enter type “cracker” – a lascivious slimy pimply primate that likes to break into computers.

Richard started the Gnu project in 1984, and authored the book “Open Sources”. Richard is loved and hated by many, and if you are one to take sides, please go to the Richard Stallman home page and take your stand. I’ll sheepishly sit it out.

For anyone who cares, my first introduction to Richard’s work, and the Gnu project was in 1990 with the gnu C compiler, and several other gnu open source tools. At the time, I was able to compile my first commercial C program for a local company, but I could never figure out how “Open Source” could work. I was not the only one, and only through Richard’s perseverance, would more and more people came to understand that we do not have to be on a commune and ride a bicycle to use and even profit (*gasp*) from open source. I now know that this mostly friendly community is full of helpful souls who sometimes contribute only a few emails to someone in need, or write a brief history of the open source movement (joke) to justify their use of the massive number of tools out there mostly requesting the adherence to the most excellent GNU PUBLIC LICENCE or GPL.


In the early 1992, as I was mercilessly charging for consulting services to whoever would hire me, a much more intelligent Finnish lad named Linus Torvalds, was publicly developing (for nothing) a better answer to the proprietary and greedy UNIX operating system. Built from scratch using the GNU tools, Linus quickly became famed for his work, and in 1998 became a celebrity with the increasingly popular operating system quaintly called Linux.

Linux was absolutely massive in growing the Internet to its size today. Thanks to Linus Torvalds, we were all able to finally get our hands on an extremely stable operating system for absolutely nothing, and use it to create a huge number of applications that are now available on the Internet.

The defacto standard “distribution” for Linux was Red Hat, and is my personal choice for a distribution, but as to be expected in a democratic type of “movement”, the different flavours or distributions of Linux are hugely popular among followers including Debian, Mandrake, and the SuSE operating system.

Back in 1998, this was all small potatoes compared to today. Originally many small companies started to build these Linux variations and distributed them to the public for free. In spite of the market crash in early 2000, Linux has gained momentum, and now huge blue chip companies are scrambling to take part in this movement. Companies such as IBM a champion of Linux, and Novell who recently acquired SuSE.

The future of Linux on the Internet is bright, and thanks to Gnu projects such as Apache open office, Apache Thunderbird, Apache lightning office and meeting request software, the hottest office software around (Open Office originally created by UNIX good guys Sun Microsystems), and also thanks to the ever popular Android phones, Linux is becoming an choice for users on the Internet.

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