- Series: Inside Technology
- Paperback: 272 pages
- Publisher: The MIT Press; 58839th edition (July 31, 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0262511150
- ISBN-13: 978-0262511155
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 18 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #672,087 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Inventing the Internet (Inside Technology) 58839th Edition
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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
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.
Top customer reviews
The beginning of the Internet is well known: it was a U.S. Defense research program called Arpanet. What is less well known is the internal structure of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) that incubated the network development during its first 10-12 years. Inventing the Internet clarifies how the small agency was created in 1958 to respond to the Soviets' successful launch of the world's first artificial satellite (Sputnik). ARPA never owned a single laboratory. Its role was to create centres of excellence in universities through the financing of research projects in defence-related domains.
ARPA had several project offices that were created and disbanded according to the ever-evolving priorities of the Department of Defense. These offices were managed by directors from the academic world - not from the military. In theory, the offices' budgets were approved by the Congress. In practice, ARPA's management used the pretext of the "national interest" umbrella - and we all know how broad the concept of national interest in the United States is - to remain out of reach of political interference. The result was a purely scientific culture benefiting from the entirely free environment that came with the universities and the plentiful money that came from the military budgets. When ARPA decided in 1969 to connect the supercomputers scattered among university campuses, it had no political or financial difficulty attracting the best computer scientists from all over the United States.
The originality of Arpanet is this intrinsic freedom, in contrast to market laws and official control. Inventing the Internet emphasizes the exceptional character of ARPA, which seems in radical contravention to both the "laissez-faire" dogma and the state-intervention ideology. Arpanet was born in an atmosphere of total confidence within a community whose wholehearted purpose was to connect the computer equipment from as many universities as possible, while imposing the least restricting standards and interfaces. Packet-switching technology was the tool that seemed to impose the fewest constraints : Arpanet was thus based on packet-switching instead of the circuit-switching technology that characterized all other telecommunications networks in the world.
Without detailing all the analyses contained in Abbate's work, I shall give the example of the tensions between the scientists united around Arpanet and the telecommunications carriers backed by their respective governments. Indeed, carriers were being pressed by their business customers to provide them with data transmission. Contrary to a widespread idea, the carriers quickly understood the advantages of packet-switching over circuit-switching. As far back as 1975, the carriers had created the packet-switching X.25 protocol, which centralized the management of the new networks inside the core. The goals of this centralized architecture were to relieve the end user of conducting complex interconnection procedures, to transmit information reliably and, of course, to boost the carriers' profit. On the other hand, computer scientists wanted to move intelligence (and control) out of the network and establish it in the host computers, because they were themselves end users and they did not mind making an extra effort to get the services they wanted, at reduced costs. Moreover, the TCP/IP protocol had been created to make up for an unreliable network in a war environment.
Abbate rightly notes that the TCP/IP and X.25 protocols were not technologically but architecturally incompatible. In the duel between X.25 and TCP/IP, Canada played a leading role: it led an anti-Internet crusade with the help of Great Britain, France, and Japan. What motivated this opposition? IBM was proposing to use its SNA standard to connect its computers, while Canada and its allies wanted to protect their home markets against IBM's monopolistic practices. Canada feared the creation of a computer communications monopoly more than any other country because of the rapid growth of its trans-border data traffic with the United States. It saw in this a threat to its very existence. When the computer scientists proposed TCP/IP instead of IBM's protocol (SNA), the suspicion turned into panic, since this protocol depended directly on the U.S. Department of Defense. This is how the Canadian government and its principal carrier, Bell Canada, ended up being the principal architects of the X.25 protocol and the main adversaries of TCP/IP. This hidden conflict gave birth to the Datapac network in 1976, which was presented to the public as a world first and became the data-transmission protocol in Canada.
Each chapter of Inventing the Internet sheds new light even on facts that we already knew, as it reveals the real stakes of the Internet's formative years - and it does so without taking sides between the conflicting players. Abbate exposes the organizational structures of the involved forces and leaves it to the reader to judge. An example of her absence of bias: she is one of the few authors to call the transfer of the Internet's backbone management to private operators at the beginning of the 1990s "privatization": " The final step toward opening the network to all users and activities would be privatization ". (1) She is correct: the transfer of a publicly owned infrastructure to a series of private corporations, even if there is no formal sale, is called "privatization" everywhere in the world. So should it be in the United States.
There is, however, one major error, all the more egregious since the book is otherwise so well documented. Throughout Inventing the Internet, Abbate refers to the "Canadian PTT." She seems to be confusing the Trans-Canada Telephone System (TCTS) with the European PTT. (2) The TCTS was the grouping of the main Canadian carriers, most of which were private operators (as in the case of Bell Canada) and not state-owned corporations. Although this is a gross error, it should not prevent us from reading this fundamental analysis.
(1)Cf. page 195.
(2) The error can be found at pp. 153, 163, and 168.