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Internet History

Warning: This page was last updated in 1996, so many of the links are broken.. The main difference between 1996 and 2014 is that things just got faster.


See Also: An Internet/Hypertext Timeline


What is now the Internet began with ARPANet, the first large packet switched network, in the early 70's. The Internet came about in the mid 80's as several different networks were interconnected using the TCP/IP protocols. These networks were initially designed to connect users to large computers, however, applications such as E-mail, NetNews and more recently the World Wide Web were the primary contributors to the growth of the Internet.

ARPANet was originally funded by the US DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). They wanted a robust self-healing network that could operate across almost any medium including unreliable links and survive nuclear holocaust. There should be no single command center vulnerable to attack. This required a decentralized network with intelligence in each node. The reliability came from redundant paths, the ability to reroute information based on the network address in the packets and error checking in the end nodes.

Many of the ideas came from the 1962 Rand Corporation report "On Distributed Communications" by Paul Baran. The original design is variously credited to an plan distributed at a 1967 Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Symposium on Operating Principles in Gatlingberg, Tennessee and to a Vint Cerf sketch done on the back of an envelope in San Francisco in the late 60's. ARPA contracted BBN to develop a packet network. The first prototype was demonstrated in 1969 at UCLA; Stanford Research Institute (SRI) the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB), and the University of Utah were soon added. The first National Information Center (now nisc.sri.com) was at SRI.

In 1971 Ray Tomlinson of BBN came up with an way of sending messages on a distributed network. "E-mail", as it became known, quickly turned the network into a new communications link. By 1972 ARPANET connected a relatively small closed community of 50 Universities and organizations doing research for DARPA. In 1973 ARPANET established links to England and Norway.

ARPANET initially used the Network Control Protocol (NCP); TCP/IP, outlined by Vinton Cerf and Bob Kahn at UCLA in 1974, didn't come into popular use until the early 80's. The transition to TCP/IP was completed in 1983. The Univ. of Wisconsin developed Name Servers and the DNS (Domain Name Server) was introduced the next year. The Internet grew to 2000 hosts during this period and DARPA contracted with Bolt, Baranek and Newman (BBN) to run it. In 1983 the ARPANET was split into ARPANET and MILNET (Military Network). EUnet (European Unix Network) was established about this time.

Following DARPA's divestiture of the network and the technologies in the mid-80s, several networks (ARPANET, Packet Radio Net, Packet Satellite Net and CSNet) were linked to form the first Internet (Network of Networks). The National Science Foundation (NSF) needed a network to link their supercomputer centers. They tried ARPANET first but had problems with the bureaucracy so built their own network (NSFNet) based on ARPAnet's IP technology. NSF contracted with Merit, which ran Michigan's educational network, to upgrade and manage NSFNet in 1987. By this time the Internet had over 10,000 nodes and had passed uucp which was the largest network up until this point. The Internet flourished in the late 1980s as most universities and many businesses around the world came online.

Merit along with IBM and MCI formed ANS (Advanced Network & Services), to upgrade the network. NSFNet evolved to become the backbone of the Internet until the transition to the commercial Internet in 1995. Some of the other federally-sponsored networks which are part of the Internet are: the NASA Science Internet (NSI), the DOE ESnet, and the DARPA DARTnet and TWBnet. The multi-agency NREN (National Research and Educational Network) Program includes these networks in addition to the NSFNET. ARPANET was taken out of service in 1990. Regional Internet providers (SURAnet, CICnet, NEARnet, BARRnet, NorthWestNet, MIDnet, MichNet, NYSERNet, OARNet and Sesquinet) have been part of the Internet for some time and many other national and regional access providers such as PSI, NETCOM, PSI, GES/JvNCnet, UUNET, and ANS are growing quickly.

In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee of CERN proposed a distributed hypertext system, which he initially called "mesh," built on the infrastructure of the Internet. In December 1990 the world's first website was served from a NeXT computer at CERN.The Web was an enormous success; it is credited with bringing the Internet to the masses. In 1991, when commercial providers were first permitted to sell Internet connections to individuals, usage of the World Wide Web exploded. Millions of new users came on within months, and a new era of computer communications began.

Total connected networks increased at the rate of 160 percent in 1993 and the number of hosts has been increasing at a rate of 90% per year for the last few years.

In 1993 there was concern that Class B addresses would shortly be depleted. Classless Inter-Domain Routing ( CIDR) was introduced to resolve this problem. The IETF (CIDRD) Working Group coordinates the implementation of CIDR. Address space allocation is still a subject of discussion.

In 1991, Nicola Pellow, a math student interning at CERN, wrote a line-mode web browser (libwww) that would work on any device, even a teletype. In 1991, Nicola and the team ported the browser to a range of computers, from Unix to Microsoft DOS.

In 1993 the first popular (in the academic community) web browser Mosaic developed at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign by Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina was released. It was the beginning of the WWW as we know it today.

In 1994 Andreessen joined the startup Netscape Corp. to develop a commercial browser and web serveer. Mozilla was the internal codename for the development of the Netscape Navigator browser. The name is formed from "Mosaic killer", one of the founders of Netscape Navigator, used Mosaic as the basis for the Netscape browser, under the codename of Mozilla.
Netscape Navigator was later renamed Communicator, then renamed back to just Netscape.

In January 1996, Bill Gates stated "winning Internet browser share is a very very important goal for us."
Microsoft forced original equipment manufacturers ("OEMs") to accept exclusionary license restrictions that caused them to stop dealing with Netscape and instead exclusively use Internet Explorer (IE).
Microsoft forced Apple to replace Netscape as its default browser with Internet Explorer by threatening Apple with loss of the Macintosh Office application.
See: Netscape v. Microsoft.pdf

In 1998 the Government began an antirust lawsuit against Microsoft.
The trial was also notable for the use by both the prosecution and the defense of professors of MIT to serve as expert witnesses to bolster their cases.
Judge Jackson issued his findings of fact on November 5, 1999, which stated that Microsoft's dominance of the x86 based personal computer operating systems market constituted a monopoly, and that Microsoft had taken actions to crush threats to that monopoly, including Apple, Java, Netscape, Lotus Notes, Real Networks, Linux, and others.

In 2000 the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Judge Jackson's rulings against Microsoft.

1998, Netscape created the Mozilla Organization to co-ordinate the development of the Mozilla Application Suite. It consisted mostly of Netscape employees but operated independently of Netscape.

In 1999 AOL bought Netscape who's market share had dropped to less than 20% while IE had 80% of the market.

In 2003, the Mozilla Foundation was launched to ensure Mozilla could survive without Netscape.

In 2005 , the Mozilla Foundation launched a wholly owned subsidiary called the Mozilla Corporation to continue the development and delivery of Mozilla Firefox and Mozilla Thunderbird (an email program).

The Mozilla Foundation now focuses solely on governance and policy issues, though it also continues to oversee the projects that have not been "productized", such as SeaMonkey, a free and open source cross-platform Internet suite.
Browser market share
History of the user-agent string | NCZOnline
Timeline of Web Browsers from Browser Wars at Wikipedia
History of the web browser

Transition to Commercial Networks

NSF has an Internet Acceptable Use Policy which restricts Internet traffic to educational and research uses. In 1991, a group of small commercial networks created their own network - the Commercial Internet Exchange or Commercial Internet eXchange (CIX).. The CIX allowed commercial users to connect with each other quickly and legally. CIX members handle all types of traffic (as long as it does not violate applicable laws).

At the end of 1994 and beginning of 1995 the Internet was transitioned from the NSFNet backbone to Network Access Points (NAPs) provided by MCI, MFS, Sprint, Pacific Bell, and Ameritech Advanced Data Services. NSF will continue to subsidize NAP connections on a decreasing scale until 1998.

Internet Addresses are now assigned to end users by Access Providers instead of the InterNIC. The the North American Network Operators Group (NANOG) in the IETF address issues for service providers.

On Apr. 30, 1995 NSFNet was turned off. By then the internet had grown to almost 5 million hosts.

The Future

The National Information Infrastructure (NII) and Very High-speed Backbone Network Services (vBNS) are two efforts looking into future National Networks; It is not clear at this time whether the Internet will evolve to them or whether they will be new networks interconnected to the Internet. (see also the NII Agenda for Action at the National Information Infrastructure Task Force (IITF) , NII Lists at U. Mich. and at Stanford The Economist article "The accidental superhighway" also provides some perspective on the future.

The New Internet Routing and Addressing Architecture (NIMROD) working group of the IETF is working on TCP/IP Version 6.

With the current explosive growth of the Internet there has been a lot of speculation on how fast it will continue to grow. Current Internet usage statistics range from 9 to 24 million users in the U.S. and Canada at the end of 1995. It is expected to grow to 100-200 million by 2000.

Internet revenues for equipment, service and content are expected to grow fro $1-5 billion now to $10-30 billion by 2000.

Other WorldWide Data Networks

Although the following are connected to the Internet with gateways they are not using the Internet Protocol (IP), so they ane not generally considered part of the Internet.

Store-and-Forward Networks

BITNET (Because It's Time Network), a network of IBM VMS machines at educational sites. Established in 1981 by the University of New York and Yale. It's available in over 50 countries. Usage peaked at about 3,000 nodes in 1991.

USENET, a set of rules for passing and maintaining Network News (NetNews) groups, is not actually a network, but a distributed server system. USENET started off with work done at the University of North Carolina (UNC) in 1979 using the uucp network. The first link was between UNC and Duke. It has expanded to the Internet and other Networks for transport.

uucp (unix to unix copy) uses point-to-point (primarily modem dialup) connections to interchange information, primairly e-mail and NetNews, between UNIX systems. As of January 1995 it had the broadest reach (over 120 countries) of any network. Developed by Mike Lesk and Dave Nowitz at Bell Labs in 1976 and released publicly in 1979, the uucp net has grown to over 20,000 nodes. JUNET (Japan Unix Network) was established in 1984 using uucp. UUNET, PSI and others provide gateways between uucp networks and the Internet. uucp has also been ported to non-UNIX hosts.

The Computer Science Research Network (CSNET) was set up NSF in 1982 as a less expensive alternative to the Internet. It used uucp over dialup connections for e-mail only. CSNET set up gateways to other networks to become one of the first logical networks composed of multiple physical networks. It evolved along with the development of TCP/IP and gateways were established so IP could be sent through X.25 VANs (See Other Packet Networks below) and to ARPANet. This laid the foundation of what later became known as "the Internet" CSNET and BITNET merged to form CREN (The Corporation for Research and Educational Networking) CSNET was discontinued in 1991.

FidoNet is a completely amateur grass roots communications network linking Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) world wide. The Fido BBS in San Francisco set up in late 1983 using software by Tom Jennings has grown to over 30,000 systems world wide in over 80 countries. Similar to uucp FidoNet is a point-to-point and store-and-forward email WAN which uses modems on the direct-dial telephone network. Although originally based on MS-DOS hosts, it has been ported to other environments. There are gateways from FidoNet to the Internet, usually via the uucp network.

Other Packet Switched Networks

The International Organization for Standardization Open Systems Interconnection ISO/OSI protocols were designed to eventually replace the Internet protocols. ISO/OSI networks are interconnected between more than 30 countries. However, TCP/IP networks are growing much faster than ISO/OSI networks and it is doubtful that ISO protocols will ever replace TCP/IP.

Growing alongside the Internet are the tens of millions of users of a number of X.25 Packet Switched Public Data Networks (PSPDN) also called Value Added Networks (VAN's). BBN started Telenet, now Sprintnet, in 1974 as a commercial version of ARPANET. Others include BT (British Telecom) Tymnet, the Compuserve Packet Network and the Source. Most of these companies are upgrading their X.25 Networks to Frame Relay and some to SMDS. Compuserve has announced an ATM Service for 1996

AOL began in 1985, originally founded as Quantum Computer Services. It officially became America Online in 1989. Four years later, in 1993, AOL had only 500,000 members. It provided access to the Internet and, in addition, offered access to its own online information and services, which were specifically tailored to the needs and interests of the average American consumer. Just four years after that, in 1997, AOL has grown to 9 million members and is widely acknowledged as the best consumer online service. AOL's history and success is based on its intention to connect more than just computers; AOL connects people, and the AOL community has become one of the largest 'cities' in the world.

Information Services

Commercial online information services such as Prodigy, America Online and CompuServe also established gateway links to the Internet for exchanging e-mail and NetNews in the early '90s. In 1995 they introduced software or gateways for access to to other services such as the WWW and Gopher.

Microsoft announced plans in Jan. 1995 to partner with UUNET to provide full internet access from The Microsoft Network, Microsoft's planned online service.

As of Aug. 1995, according to Communications Week, the big 3 on-line services had the following usage:

                    Subscribers    Growth         1997
                      US  Worldwide               Worldwide
    CompuServe       2.2 M   3.5 M   60%          Purchased by AOL
    America Online   3.3     3.3    100           10 M
    Prodigy                  1.6     23
    Microsoft Netw.           .5     80       
                            (By Oct. '96 MSN had 1.6 M subscribers)

  Another report in Oct. '95 reported 5.6 million households (5.7% of the
98 million households) in the U.S. have some kind of on-line service.
Many people have more than 1 service.
See also:
Personal Computing Timeline
Internet/Hypertext Timeline
Information Processing and Communication Networks - History - Technologies - Overview
History of Communications - INTERNET: Making the Connections
Internet usage statistics, 
An Internet/Hypertext Timeline here , 
Introduction to the Internet at U. Mich, 
cpsr-history (Internet History) mail list , 
Hobbes' Internet Timeline
Zen and the Art of the Internet, 
IBM's Internet Schoolhouse, 
Beginner's Guides at Yahoo, 
Information about the Internet at CIX , 
MCI Internet History ,
Internet History by H.E.Hardy ,
On the Edge of the Digital Age at the Star Tribune, 
NSFNet Info at Merit and 
NSFNet Map at ANS , 
NFSNet Stats , 
Stats at Internet Bus. Cntr. , 
IP Address Information here , 
sample Internet routes , 
Internet Backbone, Maps and International links.
There is more information on NAPs and RAs at
InterNic , 
ra.net and the
Transition Status page at Merit.
References: "The Whole Internet" by Krol is a good primer.

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Most of this content was developed 1/6/96.
Last update 5/20/2011