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To say this page is a brief history of the Internet is a vast overstatement; at best, this page is a side glance of a look...

The Internet

Since the web sites we want to build utilize the Internet, we need to know a bit about it and how it works.

What is the Internet?

The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet Protocol Suite (TCP/IP) to move data along this "information super highway." [1] These interconnected networks can include private, academic, wireless, governmental, military, business, and about any other network that comes to mind. By using an agreed upon standard (TCP/IP), the widely diverse networks (and computers linked to them) are able to efficiently send and receive data.

Did Al Gore invent the Internet?

No. Nor did he make that claim[3]. It does make for a good urban myth though!

How do I access the Internet?

These days, with almost any device you can imagine! Smart phones, iPad™s, iPod™s, tablet computers, netbooks, laptops, desktop computers, kiosk computers... How many other ways can you imagine? Household appliances?

The devices listed above cannot magically pull the Internet from the depths of cyberspace, in one way or another, they must connect to a network that eventually connects with that global network we call the Internet. Smart phones use the cell network to reach the Internet. Wireless web surfing with portable devices connect to a wireless router and then to the Internet. Many desktop computers are wired into a local or home network which then connects to the internet.

A Very Brief History[4] [5] [6]

In the late 1950's, the U.S. Department of Defense created ARPA (Advance Research Project Agency, sometimes DARPA) to retain the technological lead over the Soviet Union during the early days of the "Cold War." One of the first projects was a method of networking communications systems and radar installations so the failure of one system would not bring down the entire defense system. This network was called ARPANET (or DARPANET).

Computers of that era were very expensive, big, slow, not very powerful, and they sat idle between jobs which was most of the time. Computer scientists sought to combine the computing power of these slow computer, to time share them, so larger projects could be run on reasonable time frames.

The first two nodes of the ARPANET were connected in October 1969 between the UCLA School of Engineering in Los Angeles and SRI International in Menlo Park. By the end of 1971, there were fifteen sites connected to ARPANET. The ARPANET became the grandfather of what we know as the Internet, parts of it remain today.

In 1985, the National Science Foundation (U. S.) commissioned NSFNET, a network backbone to connect universities within the United States. NSFNET was opened to other networks in 1988. Commercial and other educational networks we added. The 1990's found Internet growth at 100% per year and some years more. The estimated number of Internet users as of June of 2010 is 1.97 billion.

Besides computer time sharing, other services such as email and USENET (an internet discussion system) helped to increase the popularity of the internet. The advent of the World Wide Web led to the biggest jump in internet use.

The World Wide Web

In 1990, Tim Berners-Lee with help from Robert Cailliau submitted a proposal for the Hypertext project, called "WorldWideWeb" or W3. He proposed a web of hypertext documents stored on web servers linked together with hyperlinks. He proposed viewing these documents with "web browser" software, which he also built. The hyperlink between documents, while not invented by Berners-Lee, being used on the internet (Berner-Lee's innovation) is one of the concepts that helped the Web become as popular as it is today.[7] Being able to go directly to references or other materials without having to search the library shelves for the correct book is an incredible time saver.

Web pages are formatted using the HTML language and are transferred over the Internet using the HTTP protocol.

Web Browsers

The Mosaic web browser (released in 1992) is widely thought of as the browser that made the web popular.[8] It had a easily understandable user interface, was easily installed on computers including the Windows operating system, and was the first browser to show images "inline" with the rest of the page content instead of a separate window. For a public tiring of plain text pages, this graphical web browser was a big hit!

Mosaic begat Netscape, one of the big players of the 90's. Microsoft introduced Internet Explorer to counter Netscape. Soon, other companies/developers started producing their own web browsers, each with more "bells and whistles" than the next. With more capabilities came more headaches for HTML writers: varying adherence to coding standards. Some pages would work well on some browsers but not at all on others. Some pages would be viewable on all browser but would not look the same throughout. For designers, many of whom were transitioning from the print world, this was crazy making! And very costly; a client wanting the most effective web coverage needed the HTML coders to write a version of the page for each browser and use "browser sniffing" technology to send the correct version to the visitor.

A growing number of designer/coders encouraged a form of "push-back," making sure they wrote "standards compliant code." The rational behind this movement was if only one standard of HTML was used by all authors, the web browser manufacturers/developers would eventually fall into place and produce "standards compliant web browsers." To varying degrees of success, many of today's web browsers support web standards. One way to judge your web browser is to have it take the Acid3 Test.

Some common web browsers in use today include:

  • Microsoft's Internet Explorer for Windows
  • Firefox, a descendant of Netscape, for most platforms
  • Safari, an Apple product with a version for Windows as well as the Mac
  • SeaMonkey, another descendant of Netscape which also includes email and authoring capabilities
  • Opera
  • Chrome, by Google

This list only contains a few choices, there are many many more!

Definitions, Acronyms, and Links

TCP/IP stands for Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol; the two protocols together are known as the Internet Protocol Suite[2]. I think of TCP/IP as similar to the stoplights and traffic signs which we agree to follow when driving the network of roads to our destinations. Without traffic control, we'd never be able to get around traffic jams!
Hypertext Transfer Protocol - protocol used for requesting/transmitting web pages
Hypertext Markup Language - markup language used for the structure of the web page data into web page elements
Cascading Style Sheet - a listing of styles that controls the appearance of a web page and its elements
Uniform Resource Identifier
Universal Resource Locator - related to URI, the location and type of transfer for a resource

Some Links

Internet Society - Histories of the Internet
PBS Nerds 2.0.1
Timeline of the Internet
World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)
Where the web standards are kept and improved, an ongoing project

Some Videos

History of the Internet
The Internet Explained
Tim Berners-Lee (M.I.T.), father of the World Wide Web...
World Wide Web in Plain English

[1],[4]Wikipedia, "Internet."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet (accessed 8-17-2010).

[2]Wikipedia, "Internet Protocol Suite."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_Protocol_Suite (accessed 8-17-2010).

[3]Mikkelson, Barbara and David. "Internet of Lies."
http://www.snopes.com/quotes/internet.asp (accessed 8-19-2010).

[5]Shannon, Ross. "The History of the Net."
http://www.yourhtmlsource.com/starthere/historyofthenet.html (accessed 8-25-2010).

[6]Barry M. Leiner, Vinton G. Cerf, David D. Clark, Robert E. Kahn, Leonard Kleinrock, Daniel C. Lynch, Jon Postel, Larry G. Roberts, Stephen Wolff, "A Brief History of the Internet."
http://www.isoc.org/internet/history/brief.shtml (accessed 8-25-2010).

[7]Wikipedia, "World Wide Web."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Wide_Web (accessed 8-29-2010).

[8]Wikipedia, "Mosaic (Web Browser)."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mosaic_%28web_browser%29 (accessed 8-29-2010).

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