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So how old is the Net, and did Sputnik invent it?

Our Graham braindumps 42 years of history...

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Some people have decided that the Internet is 30 years old and are celebrating its trigesimus. Well, save the candles, because there are plenty of other anniversaries that are in many ways quite as important. In a strange way, the Internet resulted from a non-collaboration between the USSR and the USA, with the UK contributing two seminal technologies. The Russian contribution was Sputnik, in 1957, which kick-started a great deal of fundamental research in the US, including the formation of the US Department of Defense's Advanced Projects Research Agency. In 1962, JCR Licklider (known as 'Lick') joined ARPA from Bolt, Beranek & Newman and was given the job of setting up ARPANET. He named his group the Intergalactic Network, but it was not until 1967 that networking was discussed seriously, and SRI was asked to study possible specifications. BBN was awarded the main contract to develop a network switch, called the Interface Message Processor (IMP). Initially, UCLA, SRI, UCSB and the University of Utah were to be connected by the Network Core Protocol (NCP). A one-node network communications protocol was demonstrated at UCLA in September 1969 (hence the anniversary), but it was not until October 1971 that there was reasonable success communicating between different sites. Packet switching was independently developed at MIT, RAND, and at the UK National Physical Laboratory by Donald Davies. Indeed, the word 'packet' in this context (for 128-byte blocks) was first used at NPL. Fortunately, the planned line speed for ARPANET was increased from 2.4 kbps to 50 kbps. JANET, the UK Joint Academic Network, was linked. By 1977, there were 100 hosts connected; by 1984, 1,000; by 1987, 10,000; by 1989, 100,000; and by 1990, when it was retired, there were 300,000. The next step was TCP/IP, which was jointly developed by Bob Kahn of BBN and Vint Cerf (then at Stanford) and discussed at a meeting of the International Network Working Group (INWG, giving rise to the term "Internet" by 1983) at Sussex University in 1973. Ethernet was being developed by Bob Metcalfe at Xerox PARC, but a fundamental problem later arose because the 32-bit IP address was divided with 8 bits for the network and 24 bits for the host: it had not been anticipated that there could be more than 256 networks. After TCP experiments with file transfer and remote login, it became clear that with virtual circuits, packet losses could not be corrected, so IP became the protocol for addressing and forwarding packets. TCP/IP was adopted by MILNET (the military breakaway network) in 1980 and by ARPANET for academic research in 1983. The subsequent events are better known: in 1990 Brit Tim Berners-Lee developed HTML and the World Wide Web at CERN in Switzerland, although he'd proposed the basis in 1989. In 1991, the NSF relaxed the ban on commercial Internet traffic. In 1993 in Illinois, a fellow called Mark Andreessen and colleagues did some work on a graphical browser called Mosaic which resulted in its widespread adoption and modification, not least by Netscape and Microsoft. And who knows, the next major influence on the development of browsing may well be the US Department of Justice, but we shall have to see about that. So far as celebrations go, we'd vote for a lunch to celebrate the Sputnik launch (October 1957), a picnic in Sussex to celebrate the September 1973 meeting when TCP/IP protocol ideas were clarified, and some beers whenever there is Internet gridlock. ®

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