NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article
A Very Brief History of the Internet
by Coco Johnston, F1 Computer Club, Shell Knob, MO, April 2001
(click to email author)

The Internet had its beginnings with the launching of Sputnik. The Pentagon's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) wanted to maximize the use of computers for national defense. Dr. J.C.R. Licklider was chosen to head up the research project and find a way to achieve that goal.

In the early 1960s, computers were little more than mathematical calculating machines. Licklider, with a background in psychology, saw computers as potential information processors and visualized a network of communities of people worldwide connected by computers. His position at ARPA and his commitment to transform computers into instruments of communication shaped the direction of research, affected how funding would be spent and eventually changed the direction of development within the computer industry. Designing network technology (hardware) and creating a universal language (software) that could move through that technology still lay ahead.

Building this network would be a monumental undertaking. The job was offered to AT & T, but they saw no potential for profit in it and turned it down. At first the computer companies also resisted the idea that computers would ever be used for communication, so they weren't interested in investing in research and development. It was left to the universities that had computers (Stanford Research Institute, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, UCLA and others) to invent the technology, develop the programming and build the network.

One of the first big hurdles was getting computers to talk to each other. In those days, a computer filled a large room, and users sat at terminals which connected to the mainframe. Most mainframe computers were self- contained, not networked to other computers. A terminal could connect to only one mainframe, and if the information a person needed was spread out in several different mainframes, then a user had to get up and move to another terminal. Going back and forth to different terminals was frustrating for Robert Taylor of ARPA. He came up with the idea of connecting mainframes so that he could sit at one terminal and access data from several mainframes. He called Larry Roberts at MIT for help with the problem. Together they worked out a solution and in 1968 sent their proposal to over 100 of the largest computing companies at that time to find someone to build the equipment. IBM and Control Data Corp., the two giants, saw no future in it and declined to take it on.

ARPA finally found a company, BBN Technologies, willing to work with them. State of the art Honeywell equipment was developed, but the first message sent across the Internet had to fit into the 12K memory of the computer. Ray Tomlinson created the first email software used to send messages across the Internet. He also came up with the idea of the @ sign to signify where the message was going.

After many trials and errors, the first email was exchanged in September of 1969 between University of California at Santa Barbara, University of Utah, Stanford Research and MIT. People at different terminals had been able to send messages to others on the same mainframe before, but this new technology was limitless; people could potentially communicate through any computer anywhere in the world.

Within a decade, the traffic on the ARPAnet grew so heavy, improvements in hardware and software had to be continuously upgraded. Personal computers came onto the market in the 1980s, and the Internet just kept growing. In 1992, a Swiss programmer named Tim Berners-Lee came up with the idea of hypertext markup language (HTML) which "linked" together documents across the Internet. He named his group of linked pages the World Wide Web.

Marc Andreesen came across Berners-Lee's linking idea and thought he could improve on it. He and some partners came up with graphical interface (the pictures and graphics you click on to move from link to link). This replaced the all-text method of navigating the Net and made it user- friendly. Andreesen went on to develop Netscape. With Andreesen's development of graphic interface, Internet use exploded, growing 341,000 percent in 1993.

For the first twenty years of its existence, the Internet was restricted to use by military and universities for the exchange of information. In 1992, U.S. Rep. Frederick Boucher submitted a bill to Congress asking that the Internet be opened to the people, free of government restrictions, and President Bush signed it into law.

Businesses slowly edged into the new marketplace with mixed results; some failed, some thrived briefly and some are still going strong. The biggest money made from the Internet to date is by the Internet Service Providers.

According to The Internet: Behind the Web, a program which aired in January 2001 on the History Channel, the amount of data that travels across the Internet doubles every 100 days. In 1992, when Berners-Lee invented the link, there were 50 pages on the WWW; today there are over 70 million Websites and 11 million registered domain names.

In 1999, the first computers that could access the Internet were allowed into Saudi Arabia. A computer in an isolated village in India can bring in the world . The world grows smaller, and with this new medium of communication, it gets harder to maintain strict political control over a populace. No longer can something like the Iron Curtain keep people in isolation. The Internet has brought us into an information age where many geographical boundaries are no longer significant barriers.

In a paper he wrote in 1968, JCR Licklider predicted that by the year 2000, millions of people around the world would be communicating through a global network of computers. Licklider's vision was realized through the perseverance, imagination and genius of hundreds of people, but not, unfortunately, before his death in 1990.

Coco Johnson is editor of the F1 Computer Club please let her know when you have used her article Her email address is coco@mo-net.com

There is no restriction against anyone using the article as long as it is kept in context, with proper credit given to the author. This article is brought to you by the Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an International organization to which this user group belongs.

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