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Timeline logoA Short History Of The Internet
The internet has been defined as "A network of networks based on the TCP/IP protocols, a community of people who use and develop these protocols, and a collection of resources that can be reached from those networks." (Krol & Hoffman, What IS the Internet?). As the definition indicates, it grew out of earlier networks which pre-date the World Wide Web by many years. Partly because of the way it grew piecemeal, histories of it vary so much from one source to another the whole matter is quite arguable. For example BT claimed it had invented the hyperlink and held patents on this, and US VP Al Gore reportedly claimed on a number of occasions,"I invented the internet". However this outline 'back history' (written in 1999, and updated here) should provide an introductory perspective, and there is a reading list at the end.

The 1940s
Alan Turing During World War Two, British mathematician Alan Turing (voted 'Old Shirburnian of the Century' by his old school, Dorset’s Sherborne School, in 1999), working at the secret code-breaking centre at Bletchley Park (depicted in the novel and film Enigma) creates the first computer, called a bombe, to crack the Germans’ Enigma cipher -- the start of British computing technology. America soon backs the project, having also developed a communications concept that will become the basis of the Web’s simple coding language, HTML. This was a proposal by US Presidential scientific advisor Vannevar Bush. In an essay, “As We May Think,” publicized in Atlantic Monthly magazine in 1945, he proposed the idea of creating a nonlinear structure for documents that would reflect the way ideas link or jump to one another. British scientists, with the aid of US funds and technology, develop a larger “computor,” called Colossus for its size as much as its ability. “I think there is a world market for about five computers,” the Chairman of IBM announced in 1943. However in 1949 Popular Mechanics magazine predicts, "Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons."

The 1950s-60s
Colossus The Cold-War scare created by Russia’s Sputnik satellite (1957) inspires the US military to develop both NASA and ARPANET (1969-), the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network. This $500-million project involves academic research into a NASA logodecentralised communications network which will survive the sort of nuclear-war scenario depicted in the film Dr Strangelove, with its computer-controlled “Doomsday Machine” built to guarantee the East-West’s common Cold War strategic policy known as MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction if either side tries for a nuclear “first-strike” knockout-blow. This network will work by sending messages between military mainframe computers via the ordinary cross-country civilian phone lines.
Luckily the MAD scenario is never utilized, but the academic researchers at the original four universities involved in ARPANET develop the idea of linking previously-incompatible computer systems to co-ordinate US high-tech R&D. The phone system initially proves too slow for data transmission, but British physicists at the Teddington laboratory develop the idea of breaking down the data into small “packets,” each of which can proceed by the fastest routers on the phone network, with the packets reassembled at the other end, an approach which also makes transmissions difficult to spy on or intercept.

The 1970s-1980s
A 1960s IT roomThe collaboration necessitated by this academic research leads to the civilian use of email (1970) and the establishment of independent online discussion “news” groups, mailing lists and forums. The term “Internet,“ meaning a “network of networks,” is used from 1973 on. The Queen sends the first official British email in 1976.
In the 1980s the desktop “microcomputer” appears. The Apple Corporation, established 1976 with a logo reportedly symbolizing Alan Turing's suicide method (a poisoned apple), becomes a major player with its Apple Macintosh line in 1984, the first high-performance desktop computer. It features a mouse-controlled "Graphic User Interface" or GUI -- an operating environment using clickable icons and menus. Apple-brand machines will be used to create many professional websites.
Apple's 1979 Apple-II system inspires IBM to produce the PC or “Personal Microsoft 1978, with Bill Gates btm leftComputer” which would use IBM-compatible standards, including IBM’s DOS keyboard-only (no mouse) “command-prompt” programming approach. As IBM itself only produces large industrial computers, they sub-contract fledgling software developer Bill Gates and his Microsoft Corporation team [pictured] in Seattle to create the PC.
While the Apple Corporation refuse to franchise its operations, Microsoft also licenses rights to its new MS-DOS system to other companies, beginning with Compaq Computers, which from 1981 makes PC “clones”, leading to the mass proliferation of compatible units.
By 1984, due to growing sales of the first PCs, the “network of networks” has evolved into the USENET (User Network), started by two US university students. Soon it has over 1000 discussion sites, and Usenet is jokingly defined as "how from the comfort of your own living room, you can converse with people that you would never want in your house." In Britain JANET (the Joint Academic Network) is developed.

Dr Tim Berners-LeeScientist Dr Tim Berners-Lee, who began his programming career in Dorset in 1976, creates at the CERN nuclear-physics lab in Switzerland a proposal for what he calls a “distributed hypertext system”, to link the various official and academic networks world-wide, using a simple programming language. This follows up the notion, expressed by US wartime Presidential scientific advisor Vannevar Bush, of a nonlinear structure for documents that would reflect the way one idea links to another, that “a web of notes with links (like references) between them is far more useful than a fixed hierarchical system”. It is an outcome of his first hypertext programme, his 1980 “Enquire Within” programme, written when he was working for computer companies in Poole, Ferndown and Colehill (the IT suite in Wimborne’s Allendale House community Learning Centre is now named after him). The prototype “World Wide Web” hypertext programme uses“hotkeys” (no mouse), and involves a plain-text encoding system called Hyper-Text Markup Language or HTML. This is a simplified version of IBM’s 1980s SGML or Standard Generalised Markup Language (developed for describing document structures), which could be employed in any plain-text editor. The key is that any text inside the angle brackets “delimiters” will be interpreted as a command. His new “Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol” becomes the basis of the World Wide Web, the first part or Scheme Protocol of a Web address always being http://.
US Senator Al Gore secures the passage of the 1991 High Performance Computing and Communications Act, nicknamed the "Gore Act", the mainstay of his 1999 claim he invented the internet. In 1993, CERN announces the Web will be free for all to use. Bill Gates however is dismissive of the idea of the internet catching on, proposing the public use Microsoft's own upcoming network instead.

C-prompt logoAt this time, many computers still use the MS-DOS command-line programming language (with white text on a black screen), and word-processing applications (such as Wordstar) display only white text on a blue screen or green text on a black screen etc. In 1990, Microsoft Corporation had launched Windows 3.1, which requires too much memory for many home computers, but will soon begin to displace DOS with a user-friendly GUI or graphical user interface of its own.
Old-style switchboardAt first, there are no pictures, only text, on the Internet. Tim Berners-Lee feels pictures distract from the real purpose of Internet, sharing scientific information.The forerunner of the first proper web “browser” appears, Netscape’s Mosaic, the first mouse-oriented point-and-click GUI for surfing the Internet, or “browser”. It reads the HTML code inside the angle-bracket“delimiters” and turns it into page-layout and other visual display effects, including in-page images. This allows web-pages to be created with pictures and text integrated in an overall graphic design, like magazine pages.
Replacing ARPANET’S “telnet” (teletype network) system as the dominant internet protocol by 1994, the new linkup system is soon known as the World Wide Web, run by W3C, the World Wide Web Consortium, headed by Tim Berners-Lee and based at MIT (Massachusetts Institute Of Technology). There are already over 10,000 hosts or websites online by then. The Web uses a protocol called Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol, with website URLs or addresses beginning "http://".
Based on the Mosaic browser, the US Netscape Corporation develops Netscape Navigator, the first general-use Web browser.
The US government’s ban on any commercial activity on the Internet having ended in 1992, the Web’s commercial development begins. There are few Web pages but already there are 13 million Web users. The Internet Service Provider America Online (AOL), founded in 1985 by a Pizza Hut marketing executive, establishes itself by offering its paying subscribers electronic adult “chat” lines, which are soon heavily subscribed to. The first major public directory of web resources appears -- Yahoo.

BBC-TV’s “Blue Peter” children’s programme launches a media trend when they give out their email as well as postal address at the end of the programme.
The “Browser War:” The Microsoft Corporation develops the Internet Explorer browser to rival Netscape’s Navigator, and offers it free by bundling it in with his new Windows 95 software, undermining sales of rival Netscape’s Communicator bundle (browser, email client etc.). Though Netscape will be forced to sell out to AOL in 1999, their open-source version, Mozilla, will lead to the creation of IE's future main rival - Firefox.
Search engines become 1996's “technology of the year” – though rapid Web growth means their actual coverage will fall by 1999 to below 16% of websites.
Hotmail, a patent invention allowing 'web-based mail' for those without their own websites or other private access to POP-mail, is bought by Microsoft in 1997, and popularises the idea of free 'web-mail' accounts, whereby email is read and sent simply by logging into a website portal via any browser.

The first free Internet Service Providers appear, their main websites supported by advertising. The first major one, Freeserve, owned by Dixons/ PC World, will soon be overwhelmed by demand. Within 2 years there will 200 free ISPs in Britain.
Over two million web-hosts have now been registered in the USA, and there are an estimated 300 million web-pages online worldwide.
According to an American study, 84% of Internet users say they can’t live without their email, while 97% of Internet users correspond by email; 59% of adult Internet users send or receive e-mail daily; 57% of American business executives rely on email; 82% of all Internet users access email from the workplace. Over 30 million people now use email daily.

Photo of a networked office The World Wide Web now has 200 million users worldwide, with 80 million users in America. Americans spend $20 billion in online shopping in 1999.
AOL is the world’s biggest Internet Service Provider, with 23 million paying subscribers worldwide (6 million in Britain). Established as a service offering an adult chat-line forum used largely by US Army personnel, it first bought up rival Compuserve and then Netscape. In early 2000, to provide more online content, it acquired Time Warner Communications, which includes Time Magazine, Warner Brothers film library and CNN satellite-tv news channel. The AOL-Time-Warner merger is the world’s biggest, with a purchase fee of $350 billion, equivalent to the annual GDP of India, though as an operational alliance it will prove a failure. Their business model of 'push' technology, with content-rich portals, proves a limited one when aggressive, restrictive market practices create a consumer backlash.
The Internet is given its own patron saint, St Isidore of Seville, who developed the first European encyclopaedia.
In Europe, there are 6 million users in Germany (7% of the population), and 8.2 million in Britain. Among British internet “surfers” 11% are age 50-plus. Britain has the highest internet market penetration in Europe. Prime Minister Tony Blair has his first Internet session visiting a school in late 1999. He announces he wants Britain to lead Europe in IT development. The educational system adopts the idea of online-computing as an educational aid under the name ICT, or Information (And) Communications Technology. The UK government decrees all teachers must become ICT-qualified by 2003. This is related to the redefining of “literate” to include “digital literacy,“ which in turn prompts the expression 'digital divide.'

economic progress chartThere are now one billion pages on the Web, equal to one page for every 6 persons on the planet, the number growing daily. Around 87% of all documents are in English.
An estimated 108 million people now use email. The EU estimates this year in Britain there will be 1.4 million “telecommuters” working at home using an online computer, and around 10 million across Europe.
The All-Party Internet Committee proposes a “free-the-Internet” campaign sponsored by The Times for unmetered phone charges for internet traffic. British Telecom is much criticized for slowing up Britain’s online development via its own non- and anti-competitive practices, restricting how rival ISPs can access BT trunk lines. BT and several other ISP companies announce flat-rate yearly subscriptions.
The 'dot-com boom' ends as the 'dot-com crash' hits the stock market.
The Queen becomes a “dotcom” millionaire via her investment in Getmapping PLC, a project inspired by the 1066 Domesday Book, selling aerial photos of her realm online.

After nine years as President, Bill Clinton departs, having sent only two emails since he took office in 1993.
In the wake of the “Browser Wars,” a US antitrust suit is brought against Microsoft, the judge ruling in April that Microsoft “placed an oppressive thumb on the scales of competitive fortune.” Microsoft is also beset by a record number of hacker attacks exposing its poor security.
BT relaunches its broadband ADSL network, now renamed after the original wartime Colossus computer. Colossus IP soon has 60,000 subscribers -- mainly businesses. BT also launches a lawsuit against American ISPs claiming BT patented the idea of the hyperlink in 1986 as part of its 1970s Prestel system, and that everyone who clicks on one therefore owes BT a royalty.
By year’s end, the regulatory agency OFTEL estimates that 11 million of Britain’s homes are now online, compared to 7.5 million a year ago, this being now equivalent to a quarter of the population.
The two main rival browsers have developed their own proprietary tags to support enhanced (but browser-specific) display functions in later versions. Microsoft and Netscape finally both announce a W3C “standards-compliant” version of their Internet Explorer and Navigator browsers (MSIE 6 and Nav 6). Nevertheless, the “W3C” (the World Wide Web Consortium), in order to try to maintain a common world-wide standard for the future, gives up on the original HTML code as inherently too limited. It has already put HTML though four successive versions to support more features than just inline images (HTML 1.0), such as forms (HTML 2.0), tables (HTML 3.2), and style sheets (HTML 4.01). However W3C now votes to abandon HTML as inherently inadequate for the new Web, with its increasing numbers of portable devices using XML (eXtensible Markup Language), announcing a new cross-platform code, XHTML. The main browsers however prove slow to build in support for XHTML commands.
The World Wide Web Consortium announces a rethinking of the way information can be organised on the Web. "The Semantic Web" is to enable " an extension of the current Web in which information is given well-defined meaning, better enabling computers and people to work in cooperation".
The '9-11' terrorist attacks draw attention to the lack of security on the web, but some press reports claim the US is monitoring all internet traffic using a secret technology called Echelon.

There are now an estimated 250 billion non-spam e-commerce messages.
An estimated 2000 computer viruses are now documented every month - according to net-security firms.
Broadband installation begins to overtake dial-up connections, enabling multimedia web events using audio and video elements onsite.
Mobile devices - laptops and phones - are increasingly enabled with WiFi for consumers to access the internet away from a land line.
Wikipedia begins to grow as as the web's main collaborative information site, and to attract mixed comments for its unique editorial approach.

Technological developments and consumer habits allow major commercial websites established earlier in the history of the web to dominate: Amazon (1994-), eBay (1995-), and Yahoo (1994-).
eBay boosts the economy, allowing millions of people to establish home-based sales businesses of the type now know as SoHo - Small Office/ Home Office.

'Blogging' becomes a press buzzword as independent private weblogs break news stories the mainstream media ['MSM'] missed or got wrong.
Google becomes the fastest-growing public corporation, with a database of 4.28 billion web pages and 880 million images (The Times), and begins to become a major rival to Microsoft as it expands beyond search into web-based or downloadable software.
Broadband penetration, and the release of the first major VOIP software application, Skype, begin to make Internet telephony using VOIP (Voice-Over Internet Protocol) practical.
Wireless broadband makes the idea of the MAN (Municipal Area Network), Mu-Fi (Municipal WiFi), or the 'wired city' feasible.

The inventor of the Web is knighted, becoming Sir Tim Berners-Lee.
BT loses its lawsuit wherein it claimed it held patent rights to all hyperlinks.
The Internet is now defined as "a common space shared by over ¼ of the planet's population."

The EU pursues Microsoft for anti-competitive practices over its pre-installed Window Media Player.
US government agencies begin prosecutions of major spammers, and large ISPs like AOL launch lawsuits against spammers.
The internet begins to be upgraded to a more secure and flexible transmission protocol, from Internet Protocol version 4 to IPv6.

The latest version of Apple's iPod portable music player leads to the mass downloading of music as a primary means of legal commercial delivery. TV programming also begins to be 'podcast' and transmitted on an on-demand basis.
The World Wide Web now 'nets' £1 in every £10 spent by consumers, eBay alone having 10 million UK users.
The 'network neutrality' debate begins, with Congress accepting that big public utilities can turn portions of the 'information super-highway' into their own toll roads restricted to their own preferred traffic, and Tim Berners-Lee opposing the breakup of the internet in this manner.

Further Reading:
A Brief History Of The Future: The Origins Of The Internet by John Naughton (1999)
Weaving The Web by Tim Berners-Lee (2000)

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