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A Brief History Of The Internet

It is pretty clear to us now that the Internet and World Wide Web are the single greatest telecommunication advancement since the telephone. The rate of growth that the World Wide Web has experienced over the last 15 years is amazing and considering how reliant our businesses and industry now are on it we can only presume that a further rate of growth is still yet to come.  This article is about exploring where the 3 W's came from, why and how they came about.

How the Internet came about

The Internet as we know it today is based upon the foundations of packet-switching systems that were in operation in the 1960s.  The data that is transmitted on packet switching networks is broken up into smaller chunks of data, sent to their destination, and then reassembled at the other end.  In essense this means that multiple users can be using a single line for the transmission of their data without loss of information or need for many lines.

At the time, Computers were mostly made up of transistors and so this made them very large - by present day standards, a computer with the power of a modern pocket calculator would have been the size of a house.  Prior to packet switching the only type of network used was made up of many terminals that logged into mainframes.  While this might sound familiar to the present day client/server relationship, the modern dat Internet is considered a peer to peer system, with no reliance on mainframes.

ARPANET and onwards

The early packet switching networks were set up in Europe and then further development of them began in America in 1968.  In 1969 the US Defence Department through it's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) arm launched the ARPANET Network Control Protocol as its transmission protocol from 1969 to 1982, when NCP was replaced with the now prevalent TCP/IP.

When the ARPANET was put in place, strategies were put also put in place on how to actually use it.  Based on these plans, the first large-scale Internet was implemented - a group of connected computers for the US military.  The underlying thought process was that a centralised computer system with a mainframe, one with a central point all other points reliant upon it, was more vulnerable than a distributed system which was not reliant upon any one or two parts of it.  In other words if one of the computers were to be removed, either through attack or other means then the rest of the computers would be capable of continuing uninterupted.  Given this was during the height of the Cold War it was a very real and possible situation they were trying to counter and avoid.

Our common services of today like E-mail were founded through the ARPANET system, and its benefits were hailed by all of those that used it.  The very popular bulletin board system, Usenet was developed in the 70's.  Around this time some of the leading universities in the US were beginning to connect to the Internet and they primarily used it for educational purposes.  The universities quickly realised that it was an excellent way of sharing educational information.  During the Autumn of 1973 the first International connection was established to the University College of London, England.

The rise of USENET

USENET was the main contributor to the way the Internet took off.  The ability of users to share information was what provided users the first glimpse at what the Internet could be.  Usenet began in 1979 and went through several revisions over the following years.  In an early triumph for freedom of speech on the Internet, the restrictions on subjects such as recreational drugs were bypassed by independent users implementing their own USENET servers instead of on the main ARPANET servers, where these topics was banned.  Over the coming years new methods for the transmission of data were developed and the standard which became NNTP (Net News Transfer Protocol) evolved.  NNTP is still widely used today.

The first development of personal computers came in the late 70's.  This brought a new audience to the developing Internet.  During this time it was used widely for e-mail and discussion boards on networks like Usenet, Bitnet and Fidonet, which eventually were all joined together.  The Internet was growing exponentially.  IRC (Internet Relay Chat) became available in 1988 and communities formed in rooms.

World-Wide Web unleashed

It was in 1991 that what we now call the World-Wide Web was introduced.  The WWW was introduced to the world by Tim Berners-Lee, with assistance from Robert Caillau.  Tim saw the need for a system that would be accessible and available to everyone across a large range of different computers that were now in use.  It had to be so simple that it would work on simple terminals and also high-end machines.  Tim worked hardand put together a plan on how websites and web pages would work, he then implemented this plan and got some webpages up and he was then able to access them with his 'browser'.

Quickly researchers got interested and started designing web sites and browsers.  In 1993 the first proper web-browser, Mosaic, took the Internet by storm; having been developed at the National Center for Supercomputer Applications (NCSA). As soon as it was ported to PCs and Macs it immediately effected a boom in web usage.

Quickly services were set up for domain registration and sites began turning up on the web, running on very basic HTML.  Even at this stage, malicious viruses and worms were infiltrating computers connected to the Internet.  The web had an incredible annual growth rate of over 600%.  Important sites like the White House and Pizza Hut appeared.  Online shopping sites showed up.  The World Wide Web was quickly becomming the most popular service on the Internet.  It was around 1995 when the first large ISPs like AOL and CompuServe began offering Internet access to the masses.  Technology like Sun's Java and search engines are released.  The somewhat famous browser war, between Netscape and Microsoft was in full swing.  Despite this, the public's enthusiasm for the Internet was still strong.

Now the web is still growing at an amazing rate.  The underlying technology has improved considerably, and the web is an indispensable tool for education, business and entertainment.  There are millions of websites and billions of web pages on the web, with thousands more being added every minute.  The Internet is growing so fast and is so distributed it would be near impossible to destroy, and given trends it looks set to become an even more influential part of our World in the future.

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