History is written by winners, but Bill Gates isn't talking yet. Those interested in how this weird, wonderful World Wide Web--and its infrastructure--came to be should turn to historian Janet Abbate's look at 40 years of innovation in Inventing the Internet
Peeking behind the curtain to show the personalities and larger forces guiding the development of the Net, from its dawn as a robust military communications network designed to survive multiple attacks to today's commercial Web explosion, Abbate succeeds in demystifying this all-pervasive technology and its creators.
Abbate's survey covers everything from David Baran's work with the RAND corporation to the development of packet-switching theory to CERN's Tim Berners-Lee and his hypertext networking system. She also factors in the influences that caused the Net to evolve such as the Cold War, changing research priorities, and the hacker subculture that pushed existing technologies into new forms, each more and more like today's fast, global communications system.
The research is impeccable, the writing is lively, and the analysis is insightful. (See especially the discussion of the "surprise hit" of ARPANET, a minor function known as e-mail.) Abbate clearly knows her subject and her audience, and Inventing the Internet encapsulates a milestone of modern history. --Rob Lightner
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From Publishers Weekly
The prehistory of the InternetAmeaning the period including Gopher and WAIS but before the World Wide WebAis often recounted among wonks but unknown to most others. Abbate, a history lecturer at the University of Maryland, traces the conversion of the ARPANET, a project of the Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency created to allow scientists to run computers remotely, to the World Wide Web, an application created by a Swiss CERN physicist in the early 1990s for transmitting sound and pictures along with text, with a number of stages along the way. From the opening discussion of "packet switching," a major innovation in information exchange, Abbate makes it clear that "technical standards can be used as social and political instruments," and that hardware and software architecture is as much a product of social formations as the other way around. ARPANET was created at the height of the Cold War so that military communications could be maintained in the event of nuclear exchange, but the scientists who created it, in true Kuhnian fashion, used a loose set of ideas about end user-driven computing to overturn conventional wisdom. The book, firmly academic, has the feel of an extremely well-written doctoral dissertation and is thus unable to avoid being freighted with the acronyms and the inherent complexity of its subject. While most readers won't care about CCITT standards or how TCP/IP works, they will find themselves at least curious about the people who created them. (Aug.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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