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History of the Internet

History of the Internet

The birth of the Internet can be traced to a small government project in the United States of America way back in 1970s. It was born from the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) network called the ARPANET. ARPA was set up as a result of the US losing the “Space Race” to the Soviet Union.

The ARPANET had several small computers, Interface Message Processors (IMPs), which were connected to each other through modems and leased lines that facilitated exchange of data between different computers via packate switching. As the news spread about ARPANET, more and more computers got connected to it gradually increasing its size and laying the seed for the Internet.

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In 1993, I “saw” the Internet for the first time. Back in those days one could connect to another computer through protocols such as telnet and FTP using a terminal window. The telnet or FTP commands had to manually typed in at the prompt – there was no user interface. To gain access to a remote system one either needed to know the username and password or one was restricted to only the public directories – directories that were not protected and were thus, open to all. And if you didn’t have an idea of how to locate a file, you had to go through each directory listing and check the file names (assuming that the file name described its contents)!

The major growth of the Internet came with the development of HTML, the HyperText Markup Language, and programs (browsers) that could read and display those documents. This gave rise to the World Wide Web (commonly known as WWW). Nowadays HTML documents, also called web pages, in addition to text, can also contain images, movie clips, sound cips, animations and much more.

During its short history, the Internet has grown exponentially. Even at this very moment as you are reading tons of web pages and web sites are being added to this global virtual web. With the advent of easy to use WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get ) editors the techniques of creating a web site and putting it online has reached the hands of the common man (or woman, if you like). People are using the Internet not only for daily tasks such as checking and sending emails (communication) and searching for information but are also creating their personal and business web sites or writing their hearts out on a blog.

The Internet is now a global network of networks. Which means it consists of many smaller networks. The number of computers linked on these smaller networks can range from 2-3 in a small Intranet to thousands of machines in big organizations. No one knows the exact number of computers connected to the Internet, because this figure keeps changing and is increasing with each hour.

Tracing back in time, we can divide the history of the Internet (till the present) into three main parts.

  1. FTP: The first stage
  2. Gopher: The second stage
  3. The World Wide Web: The third stage

File Transfer Protocol – FTP

The FTP (File Transfer Protocol) was, and is still, widely used to transfer files from one computer to the other. A user typically logs in at an FTP server and downloads or uploads files. Though FTP allowed for sending and retrieving files from a remote computer, it did not facilitate browsing. Thus, a lot of time was spent (wasted!) in searching for the required information. Because of this, a service called Archie was developed to simplify keyword searching of files located at FTP servers. Nowadays, FTP is mainly used to transfer large data (huge files or many small files) from one machine to the other. Various FTP clients are now available and most of them are very simple to use. The File Transfer Protocol still remains a faster method than the HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) for uploading and downloading files. Here are a few links you can refer:

Gopher – Veronica and Jughead

Gopher was a menu-style information browsing and retrieval system. Developed at the University of Minnesota as a campus-wide information system, Gopher was named after the University mascot, though some opine that Gopher stands for ‘go-for’ information. Gopher overcame many of FTP’s shortcomings but as the content increased, navigating the menu system became arduous. A search facility for Gopher called Veronica was developed which was similar to Archie for FTP. Jughead, a local search service for Gopher was developed to facilitate searching of local networks. Due to the lack of multimedia support and its linear nature, Gopher soon became extinct with the advent of the Web.

The World Wide Web

The World Wide Web: Came into existence with the introduction of browsers, the first one being Mosaic. The browser provided ease of use with graphical display and was able to show images with text. Hyperlinking between documents broke the linear architecture of Gopher and increased the complexity of the web. The browser was able to provide the user with a range of experiences – pictures, multimedia (sound, video) and interactivity. The web also allowed for the integration of pages with databases that resulted in dynamically generated content – content that is picked up from the database and integrated into HTML pages or HTML templates. This prompted many companies to put their wares online resulting in the explosive growth of the web.

The Internet has been put to a variety of uses. Though it started primarily as a medium to facilitate data exchange, it is now employed for information search and retrieval, communication via email, chat and voice, commerce and business processes and much more.

The two aspects of the Internet that I have always admired are communication (via email, chat) and access to information in a matter of seconds.
Email and chat have literally changed the way we communicate – it’s now so easy to “talk” to a person sitting on the other side of the globe.
I still remember my first session on the Internet. That was in 1993 and I was one of the lucky few to have Internet access in India. So the first thing I searched for were the lyrics of The Doors. Not knowing how to go about it, I typed in “Doors” in the search field guess what I came up with? – Advice on how to paint “doors” in your house! I did manage to get the lyrics (after revising the search phrase to “the doors lyrics”) but what struck me was the extent of information available. It was an amazing first experience!

How do web developers use the Internet?

I conducted a small survey involving 40 web developers and asked them a series of questions. Now web developers are very busy people (ahem!), so I had to keep my questionnaire short and precise. In addition to other questions, the web developers were asked to rank the top 6 reasons why they use the net… and here are the top three:

  1. e-mail: Tops the list as the most used application of the Internet
  2. Information search: Looking for prospects and “knowledge”
  3. Business: Though, the survey was conducted on web developers, I was surprised and most of the 40 participants placed “Business” in the third place

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