The Internet: 40 Years of Breathtaking Innovation

By Roy Mark  |  Posted 2009-10-31 Email Print this article Print

What has become the Internet was started 40 years ago when computer scientists at UCLA made the first host-to-host connection to the Stanford Research Institute. From there, there's been no looking back.

It was October 1969 and Paul McCartney was not dead. He even said so in a press conference. The 100-to-1 shot New York Mets won the World Series. The cold war between Russia and the United States was anything but with nuclear testing continuing unabated by both sides. The United States, though, was riding high in the space race after successfully landing two men on the moon earlier in the summer.

Buoyed by the national interest in the space race, U.S. science and technology programs were blossoming throughout the country, with the best and brightest high school grads flocking to college science and computer majors. They could be spotted on campuses as the ones with shoe boxes full of punch cards to be fed into university mainframes.

Unknown except to a select few at the time, the Internet was also born in October 1969, when scientists at UCLA made the first host-to-host connection to the Stanford Research Institute. It failed to connect the first time, and but the scientists-including young Vint Cerf-were successful the second time. The experiment on something called ARPANET was little noted but is now recognized as a seminal moment in science and technology.

As Cerf once noted, "Science fiction does not remain fiction for long. And certainly not on the Internet."

What followed was 40 years of breathtaking innovation. With generous help from the Computer History Museum, below is a brief timeline from the beginning of the Internet to its emergence in the 1990s as a commercial force.

1970: Nodes are added to the ARPANET at the rate of one per month, and by the end of the year scientists have put the finishing touches on a host-to-host protocol called the NCP (Network Control Protocol).

1973: Work begins to interconnect ARPANET with other networks using a net-to-net connection protocol. Cerf and Robert Kahn present a paper on the new TCP (Transmission Control Protocol).

1977: Cerf and Kahn present a demonstration using the term "internetting" to describe the traffic moving among the Packet Radio net, SATNET, and the ARPANET. Messages go from a van in the Bay Area across the U.S. on ARPANET, then to University College London and back via satellite to Virginia, and back through the ARPANET to the University of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute. This shows its applicability to international deployment.

1979: Computer scientists begin discussing the possibility of building a Computer Science Research Network to be called CSNET. By November, the group submits a $3 million, five-year proposal to the National Science Foundation to fund a consortium of 11 universities. NSF says no.

1983: Numbering the Internet hosts and keeping tabs on the host names fail to scale with the growth of the Internet. In November, Jon Postel and Paul Mockapetris of USC/ISI and Craig Partridge of BBN develop the Domain Name System (DNS) and recommend the use of the now familiar user@host.domain addressing system.

1984: Novelist William Gibson coins the term "cyberspace" in "Neuromancer," a book that adds a new genre to science fiction and fantasy. The newly developed DNS is introduced across the Internet, with the now familiar domains of .gov, .mil, .edu, .org, .net and .com.

1986:  TCP/IP is available on workstations and PCs. Ethernet is becoming accepted for wiring inside buildings and across campuses. Each of these developments drives the introduction of terms such as "bridging" and "routing" and the need for readily available information on TCP/IP in workshops and manuals. Companies such as Proteon, Synoptics, Banyan, Cabletron, Wellfleet and Cisco emerge with products to feed this explosion.

1987: The NSF, realizing the rate and commercial significance of the growth of the Internet, signs a cooperative agreement with Merit Networks, which is assisted by IBM and MCI. Rick Adams co-founds UUNET to provide commercial access to UUCP and the USENET newsgroups, which are now available for the PC. BITNET and CSNET also merge to form CREN.

1988: The Morris WORM burrows on the Internet into 6,000 of the 60,000 hosts now on the network. This is the first worm experience, and DARPA forms the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) to deal with future such incidents.

1989: Commercial e-mail relays start between MCIMail through CNRI and Compuserve through Ohio State. Tim Berners-Lee addresses the issue of the constant change in the currency of information and the turnover of people on projects. Instead of a hierarchical or keyword organization, Berners-Lee proposes a hypertext system that will run across the Internet on different operating systems. This was the World Wide Web.

1990: ARPANET formally shuts down. In 20 years, the Internet has grown from four to more than 300,000 hosts. Several search tools, such as ARCHIE, Gopher and WAIS, start to appear. Institutions like the National Library of Medicine, Dow Jones and Dialog are now online. More worms burrow on the Net, with as many as 130 reports leading to 12 real ones. This is a further indication of the transition to a wider audience.

1992: Students at NCSA in Champagne-Urbana modify Berners-Lee's hypertext proposal. In a few weeks, MOSAIC is born within the campus. Jim Clark sees MOSAIC and founds Netscape. The WWW bursts into the world, and the growth of the Internet explodes. What had been doubling each year now doubles in three months. 



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