Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Internet, Did The Government Make That Happen?

President Obama has taken a lot of flack for his recent anti-business rhetoric.  He's tried to defend his comments by pointing to statements he made about the Internet and how government research created it.
If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.  The Internet didn’t get invented on its own.  Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
Perhaps it's because of the meme that Al Gore invented the Internet, but no one seems to be questioning the claims by the president or other Democrats that the government built the Internet.  Unfortunately for the President, the truth is businesses designed, developed, and built the technologies that make up the Internet to solve business needs before the government decided to co-opt it for one of their defense projects.

The network that gave eventually gave birth to the Internet was called the ARPAnet (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network).  This network evolved into the DARPAnet (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) for use by the Department of Defense and universities. 

The problem?  ARPAnet was not invented by the DoD or some other government research center.  It wasn't even developed in some university computer lab.  No, ARPAnet was first conceived of by J.C.R. Licklider at Bolt, Beranek, and Newman (BBN) in August 1962, 50 years ago next month.

Licklider would later join the DoD, bringing along two colleagues from BBN, Ivan Sutherland and Bob Taylor.  They issued an RFQ to computer science companies to create a large packet switched network based on Liklider's ideas developed at BBN.  In 1969, four companies responded and the one selected was none other than BBN, the very company where the idea was first developed.

The BBN team that began working on creating the ARPAnet also developed the first routers, known as IMPs, as part of the project. Ray Tomlinson, another BBN employee, developed the first software protocols and applications to login to remote computers (telnet), to transfer files over a network (CPYNET), and email (SNDMSG).

The DoD controlled DARPAnet for a little over 2 years.  In 1973, they relinquished all control after as it was learned that 75% off the traffic on the network were for private and personal communications.  From there technology from a variety of non-governmental, private sector sources contributed to the evolution of the DARPAnet into the Internet.  

1973, David Boggs and Robert Metcalfe, while working for Xerox PARC invented Ethernet, the cabling standard that still connects computers on the Internet.  Xerox PARC may be familiar to Apple and Microsoft fans, as it is the company responsible for developing the Graphical User Interface which was co-opted by Steve Jobs for the Macintosh and Bill Gates for Windows.

A year later, Robert Kahn, while working at BBN, with the help of Stanford University professor Vinton Cerf, developed the TCP/IP protocol, the language of sorts that allows computers to talk to each other on the Internet.

In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee, together with Robert Cailliau, would develop the hypertext transfer protocol, the basis for the world wide web.  Berners-Lee developed his experience and knowledge of Ethernet while working at Xerox PARC, the birth place of the technology.  By that time, millions of people around the globe were already connecting to global networks via bulletin board systems like AOL and various local companies, many connecting into their companies own global networks.

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