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How Did This All Get Started? And Where Is It Going?

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  1. How Did This All Get Started? And Where Is It Going?
  2. Who's in Charge?
  3. Regulating the Internet
  4. The Future of the Internet
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How Did This All Get Started? And Where Is It Going?

To fully understand what all the fuss is about concerning the Internet, start by taking a look at its history and its potential future. This chapter offers you a glimpse at how it all started and where it's going. More importantly, you find out who's in charge of it all. This information is bound to impress not only your kids, but your friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers. Who knows, it might also come in handy if you find yourself on a quiz show with Regis Philbin.

In the Beginning

There you were, going along in life minding your own business, when suddenly, out of the blue, comes the personal computer. Supposedly, this nifty gadget was destined to make your job easier, help you get your life organized, and open up a brand new world of information. As it turns out, the Internet did much of what it promised to do, and it continues to do so.

More Brands

The IBM PC and Apple computer weren't the only games in town. Companies such as Commodore and Radio Shack also had computers for sale. Unfortunately for them, they didn't succeed in the marketplace as well as the PC and Mac did.

Computers have been around awhile now, but they really became popular in the '80s and '90s. IBM introduced its first personal computer in 1981. Shortly afterward, the PC clones (affordable versions) were everywhere. The computer manufacturing industry saw the number of users more than double between 1981 and the end of 1982. In 1984, Apple's Macintosh line of personal computers was introduced. By the end of the '80s, 65 million personal computers were scattered about homes and offices around the globe.

The Interface Race

Perhaps you'd like to know how computers got to be so easy to use for the masses? The Macintosh line, introduced in 1984, was unique in presenting a user-friendly interface, which made it much easier to control and command the computer. Up until then, most computer users had to wade through a very dull menu system to get anything done. (IBM PCs and their clones used DOS as their operating system.) Microsoft introduced its first version of Windows in 1985, a user-friendly interface for the PC that was similar to the Mac interface. Instead of using menus, the user could click icons to open programs and files. The onscreen environment was visual and intuitive for users. Needless to say, there were skirmishes between both companies over the idea. The dust eventually settled, and both companies continue to churn out improvements. No doubt about it, the user-friendly interface has benefited us all, particularly kids. Pointing and clicking onscreen items is a lot simpler than memorizing complex commands and typing them into a text-prompt.

For much of the populace, the early excitement of personal computers focused on software and operating system developments. But even in the early days of personal computers, the Internet was steadily growing in the background.

New to Computers?

If you're really unfamiliar with computers and Internet terms in general, check out Chapter 4, "What to Do If Your Kids Know More About Computers Than You Do." The basic computer and Internet terminology is presented there. And if you're interested in further research, try the Complete Idiot's Guide to Computer Basics or the Complete Idiot's Guide to PCs, both by Joe Kraynak.

Where Did the Internet Come From?

The Internet began out of the efforts of the U.S. Department of Defense to create a computer network that would reroute data in the case of a nuclear attack. It was the 1960s, and the cold war was still going strong. The idea was to create a network that could withstand the loss of one or two computers due to a nuclear war disaster and still manage to send and receive data among the remaining computers. This early network was called ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network).

Name Dropping

J.C.R. Licklider of MIT is credited as the first man to propose the global network of computers that is now the Internet, contrary to what Al Gore claims. This was back in 1962. Men such as MIT's Leonard Kleinrock (the guy behind the theory of packet switching, which is how the Internet communicates) and Lawrence Roberts (he came up with connecting computers through ordinary phone lines) joined Licklider at ARPANET and, along with many others, were the early visionaries of the information superhighway.

The scientific and academic research community began linking to the network in 1969. Universities and libraries soon followed. In the '70s, TCP/IP architecture was developed. TCP/IP stands for Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol, the rules by which all computers connected to the Internet must exchange data. By the '80s, most networks—particularly those that enabled users to research databases—were using TCP/IP protocols. By 1983, all TCP/IP based networks were connected to the original ARPANET network, and the stage for the Internet boom was set.

In those early days of ARPANET, the network was used primarily by computer experts, engineers, scientists, researchers, and librarians. This was long before the advent of the personal computer, and the methods of using the Internet were very complex. However, the network had much to offer, allowing users access to databases across the country, email, discussion groups, file transfer, and more.

Things really started hopping in 1990 when HTML was introduced. (Don't forget, by this time, the personal computer was well on its way to taking over desktops.) HTML, which stands for Hypertext Markup Language, is a protocol that allows documents to be linked and graphics to be displayed in the documents. This was the birth of the World Wide Web, also known as WWW or simply the Web. The hypertext protocol is a system of embedding a link in the text of one document to text in another document. But the Web wasn't considered cool until someone invented a better way of viewing its pages. When the first Web browser was introduced in 1993, the HTML protocol burst loose on the Internet and it hasn't stopped since.

The Very First Browser

For those of you preparing for a quiz show appearance, here is a bit of trivia: The very first Web browser was developed by Marc Andreessen and the gang at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (or NCSA for short). The browser's name was Mosaic. Andreessen took his idea and turned it into Netscape Corp.—heard of them? Netscape went on to become the most widely used browser in the world—until Microsoft entered the race with its Internet Explorer. And so the browser war continues to this day.

The Web is only a section of the Internet, a section that focuses on linked documents. You can view a page located on a server in your office, click a link on the page, and suddenly view a page located on a server in another country. It's a beautiful thing, isn't it? Not only can you click a link that leads you to another document, but you can also click links to multimedia features, such as audio or video. Before the advent of the Web, you had to know the exact location of the file you wanted to view, or jump through an exhaustive menu system to find an Internet document. On the Web, a click is all it takes.

Next time you're clicking links, be sure to say a word of thanks to the researchers at CERN (the European Lab for Particle Physics) for coming up with the whole World Wide Web concept, as well as to Tim Berners-Lee for inventing HTML.

What Exactly Is the Internet, Anyway?

Technically speaking, the Internet is a global network of computers—it's an "inter-network," hence Internet. A network means connected computers, whether they are computers in an office environment that are connected to share files, programs, and printers, or computers scattered across the world. In the case of the Internet, it's a collection of networks as well as individual computers. These computers are linked by telephone lines, coaxial cables, and even satellite links.

Do you wonder how it works? Allow us to clear that up as well. The Internet works by sending data around in small packets. Hey—don't doze off yet, it's just getting interesting. Large quantities of data are broken down into small units (the packets) to be sent, and then are reassembled at the destination point. During the transmission, the packets zing around the network via computer routers (computers whose main purpose is to find fast routes for packets). If a router determines a heavy traffic area on the network or a sudden loss of a network computer (we hope not because of a nuclear war), it routes the packets another way. Ingenious. Now if only they could figure out how to do this with morning traffic, eh?

Internet Versus Web

Many people use the terms Internet and Web interchangeably. Technically, the Web is just one section of the Internet. It happens to be the most popular, most used, most talked about section, but it really is only a piece of the whole.

What's the Internet Today?

When we refer to the Internet today, we include all the computers connected to the network, such as personal computers, routing computers, client computers, and server computers (computers that store files for others to access). The Internet is all about sharing information via these computers and the technology that connects them. As mentioned previously, it wasn't so easy to swap information online during the early days of the Internet. You had to know about things like FTP, Gopher, WAIS, Archie, Telnet, Usenet, IRC, and other various services or tools used to share information. Remember, the Internet was populated by technical people, so the tools weren't exactly user-friendly, and they certainly weren't kid-friendly.

In the '90s, commercialism was loosed upon the Internet. Until then, the Internet was pretty much the domain of researchers, educators, and the government. Commercialism was a no-no (unless it aided in research, education, and governing). This changed when independent commercial networks started popping up and joining the online party.

Commercialism, combined with the sudden popularity of the Web and Web browsers, has made the Internet the free-for-all it is today. Reminiscent of the California gold rush of the late 1800s, everybody and their cousin has a Web page and an eye on possible profits, too. Businesses are tripping over themselves to join the zillions already advertising their services and wares online. Why the rush? There are 65 to 100 million Internet users (estimates vary), which makes for quite an online market to tap into. By the year 2003, experts estimate there will be more than 177 million Internet users, and electronic commerce (or e-commerce, for short) will grow to more than one trillion dollars.

Professional Hermits Rejoice!

With today's Internet, you can shop online for just about anything you could ever need. I suppose you've heard of that Dot.com guy who's holed up somewhere in Texas trying to survive for a year by getting everything he needs off the Internet? (I'm not making this up; you can check it out yourself at www.dotcomguy.com.) The online marketplace is a burgeoning thing.

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