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How the Web was Born: The Story of the World Wide Web Paperback – January 15, 2000
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It's hard to believe that there was a time--not long ago--when the digital fairyland of commerce, soapboxing, and pornography called the World Wide Web was just a file-sharing tool for nerds, but there's a first time for everything. How the Web Was Born, by CERN's James Gillies and Robert Cailliau, follows the trail from the dawn of ARPANet through the mid-90s, just as the Web boom was beginning to take off in earnest. That may seem like an odd ending point, but the post-1995 story has already been told ad nauseam, and the writers know how to quit while they're ahead. The story is told from widely varying viewpoints and across shifting timelines as the various players are introduced and observed; this adds some complexity to the narrative, but yields a truer picture of the team efforts required to devise and launch the Web. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Marc Andreesen, Tim Berners-Lee (of course), and many more, figure prominently in the interwoven tales, and are briefly summarized in an abridged cast list at the end of the book, along with a paper and electronic bibliography. The book assumes some knowledge and interest on the part of the reader and saves its big-picture context for the end, but provides reader motivation both by its subject's inherent interest and the recurrent personalization of the story. Neither textbook nor CERN propaganda, How the Web Was Born offers an engagingly networked collection of characters that, like their invention, creates something larger than the sum of its parts. --Rob Lightner
`This is a scholarly work for the price of a novel'
`It is not a light read but it is a good one!'
David Coleman, Multimedia Information and Technology, February 2001
New Scientist 30/9/00
`a good read'
Glasgow Herald, 22/9/00
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The book is notable for really digging back into the precursors of the Web. I've been in networking since 1979 and there were a lot of new things for me to learn in the book.
The book is weak where it over invests in the politics at CERN and especially around the horse-trading that resulted in the consortia that manages the Web, W3C. The last fifty pages of what been an engrossing read just drag and drag.
I'd give the first two thirds of the book at least four stars, the last third two at best. Still, if you're really interested in how things like URL, HTTP, HTML, DNS, etc came about, this is worth making the effort.
This account of the beginning of the web is both entertaining and informative. I highly recommend it to anybody whose introduction to computer science has been the web: this book will fill in a lot of the gaps about the origins of all sorts of topics ,such as hypertext and networking.
I find it interesting that the authors did not always take a linear approach to their subject. Several chapters concentrated on a particular sub-topic, bringing it forward from its root in the fifties or sixties or even earlier, all the way through the nineties.
Then the next chapter would likewise deal with a different but related sub-topic. I found this non-linear approach to be much like the World Wide Web itself. Considering one of the authors was intimately involved with the birth of the Web, I wouldn't be surprised if the book were intended to flow this way....it makes it so that you could conceivably jump around from chapter, just like jumping from hyperlink to hyperlink....
This book might also make good reading for people who are close to web geeks, but aren't geeks themselves. As long as they are intelligent enough to understand computing concepts, it will help explain to them what this fascination of ours is all about. Hey, it may even get THEM interested ;)
Tim Berners-Lee came up with the original idea and had the vision and tenacity to push it forward. This book goes back to the origins of the internet - eg. the ARPANET in the US and various other efforts in Europe to lay the ground work for the Web story. One thing about the backround was the fact that the French internet development effort `Cyclades', initially had more flexibility - allowing software addressing, than ARPANET, however, ultimately the European efforts could not maintain the momentum of the US efforts by virtue of their complex funding and management structures. The US efforts evolved faster, addressing mainly of its initial short comings and gained widespread acceptance.
Another indicator, mentioned in the book, of the relative speeds of European vs US development efforts is indicated in the battle for acceptance of TCP/IP vs. OSI standards for computer intercommunication. OSI is an international standards development organisation, and on the face of it, an international communications standard - even if developed slowly - must triumph over de-facto standards. However the pace of OSI development was glacial, and TCP/IP worked and continued to work as the internet grew and grew. Eventually TCP/IP gained such widespread acceptance that it was impossible to ignore.
The pattern repeated itself with the Web - developed in Europe, the first web sites were all European, it was taken up enthusiastically by various US-based software engineers. As Berners-Lee was so short staffed, he appealed to volunteers to write browsers for various types of computers - and Marc Anderson in Illonois' National Centre for Supercomputer Applications, wrote a browser (called Mosaic) which was suitable for personal computers. The book makes clear the Anderson's team worked frenetically, but the code design was viewed as very poor by the CERN team [ they described it as MarcA mode, i.e. buggy]. However the browser launched the World Wide Web to mass appeal and changed the world.
The book briefly describes how Berners-Lee saw the need of a forum to control the development of the Web and could only find practical support for this in the US (at MIT), - despite repeated appeals for funding from various European sources, again a missed opportunity for Europe.
The book has a failing in being too deferential to Berners-Lee (it is co-authored by one of his co-workers in the development effort) but it is an essential read from a European perspective on how the US has the ability, the resources and the ability to recognize and develop innovations
All the implications generated by this colossal invention, including the whole change of paradigms and profound transformations in our quotidian lives are described with notable erudition and precision.
Once you have started it will be too hard to leave this passionate reading.