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This chapter is from the book

Why the Internet Matters

At the risk of stating the obvious, the Internet has transformed the way we do business. Prior to its inception, it was quite difficult to transfer data from one computer to another—unless that computer toed the line and used the same proprietary procedures as the sending machine. For example, IBM marketed its own suite of protocols, as did other vendors. None of them could communicate with each other. The data communications industry was operating in a Tower of Babel. It was suffering from serious compatibility problems, with the resultant loss of productivity.

To their credit, many international organizations had standards used by hardware and software vendors. The modem and fax standards, published by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), were adapted by all modem and fax manufacturers. But this is not the situation for data communications protocols. For example, the ITU’s Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) protocols never caught on. The OSI protocols suffered from unnecessary complexity and from the fact that the standards (the documents) were “owned” by the ITU. But, as discussed in Hour 3, the OSI model itself is still widely used and cited by the industry.

In contrast, the Internet’s protocols are designed for simplicity. What’s more, they’re “open.” Anyone can use the Internet specifications without paying a red cent for them. These standards are codified in the Request for Comments (RFCs). They are the Bible of the Internet and the bedrock of data communications networks.

Later we will examine several of the Internet data communications protocols. I suspect you’ve already come across many of them. Does TCP/IP ring a bell? You may not know, but these communications protocols run in your computer each time you log on to the Internet. We won’t get ahead of ourselves but will return to the Internet several times in this book.

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