The Internet is 30 today. Exactly 30 years ago today on November 22, 1977 the first three networks were connected to become the Internet. These three were:
- A lossy packet radio network (the lossiness of this network greatly influenced the design of TCP/IP)
- The Atlantic Packet Satellite Network (a.k.a. SATNET)
There were computer networks before this, but this was the first network of networks that deliberately attempted to connect heterogeneous systems without regard for platform. It was the thing which grew into today’s Internet. Except for one brief discontinuity in 1983 when the entire Internet was turned off to switch over to TCP/IP, there’s a continuous progression from then to now.
I doubt anyone back then had any idea of what they had created. The Apple II was only a few months old, 300 baud modems were state of the art, and most networks just connected dumb terminals to a mainframe or minicomputer. You could still find medium-sized businesses that didn’t even have any computers, much less a network. Letters were still typed on paper. People still talked about the phone company, because there was only one. Back then a graphical user interface meant a terminal with an interactive green screen instead of punch cards.
E-mail and file transfer were the major applications on the early net. (Some things never change even if the protocols do.) However Usenet and NNTP were still a couple of years away, as were gopher, archie, IRC, Gnutella, BitTorrent, MMPOGs, VOIP, and of course the Web. The Internet spoke NCP, not TCP/IP. Viruses, worms, and Trojan horses were imagined only by the most cutting edge science fiction.
The original Internet addresses were 32-bits, like IP4 today. However only the first byte was reserved for network identification. The assumption was that 256 networks would be plenty. Although other groups were busy inventing LANs and Ethernet at the same time, no one really thought of that.
Over the next 30 years the Internet continued to grow in directions no one imagined until they invented it. Arguably the Internet revolution is more important than the computer revolution that enabled it. Unconnected, computers just let us crunch numbers, process data, and and type a few letters. With the Internet computers let us communicate faster, better, and in more ways than ever before. Computers are for data and numbers. The Internet is for people.
What will the next 30 years bring? Will the Internet even last another 30 years or is some other unnoticed research project revving up to sweep away the Internet the way the Internet swept away most competing systems? The only thing I’m sure of is that I don’t know, but it should be fun to watch.