'internet' Episodes

Bill Gates Essay: Content Is King

     6/6/2020

Today we’re going to cover an essay Bill Gates wrote in 1996, a year and change after his infamous Internet Tidal Wave memo, called Content is King, a term that has now become ubiquitous. It’s a bit long but perfectly explains the Internet business model until such time as there was so much content that the business model had to change. 

See, once anyone could produce content and host it for free, like in the era of Blogger, the model flipped. So here goes: 

“Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting.

The television revolution that began half a century ago spawned a number of industries, including the manufacturing of TV sets, but the long-term winners were those who used the medium to deliver information and entertainment.

When it comes to an interactive network such as the Internet, the definition of “content” becomes very wide. For example, computer software is a form of content-an extremely important one, and the one that for Microsoft will remain by far the most important.

But the broad opportunities for most companies involve supplying information or entertainment. No company is too small to participate.

One of the exciting things about the Internet is that anyone with a PC and a modem can publish whatever content they can create. In a sense, the Internet is the multimedia equivalent of the photocopier. It allows material to be duplicated at low cost, no matter the size of the audience.

The Internet also allows information to be distributed worldwide at basically zero marginal cost to the publisher. Opportunities are remarkable, and many companies are laying plans to create content for the Internet.

For example, the television network NBC and Microsoft recently agreed to enter the interactive news business together. Our companies will jointly own a cable news network, MSNBC, and an interactive news service on the Internet. NBC will maintain editorial control over the joint venture.

I expect societies will see intense competition-and ample failure as well as success-in all categories of popular content-not just software and news, but also games, entertainment, sports programming, directories, classified advertising, and on-line communities devoted to major interests.

Printed magazines have readerships that share common interests. It’s easy to imagine these communities being served by electronic online editions.

But to be successful online, a magazine can’t just take what it has in print and move it to the electronic realm. There isn’t enough depth or interactivity in print content to overcome the drawbacks of the online medium.

If people are to be expected to put up with turning on a computer to read a screen, they must be rewarded with deep and extremely up-to-date information that they can explore at will. They need to have audio, and possibly video. They need an opportunity for personal involvement that goes far beyond that offered through the letters-to-the-editor pages of print magazines.

A question on many minds is how often the same company that serves an interest group in print will succeed in serving it online. Even the very future of certain printed magazines is called into question by the Internet.

For example, the Internet is already revolutionizing the exchange of specialized scientific information. Printed scientific journals tend to have small circulations, making them high-priced. University libraries are a big part of the market. It’s been an awkward, slow, expensive way to distribute information to a specialized audience, but there hasn’t been an alternative.

Now some researchers are beginning to use the Internet to publish scientific findings. The practice challenges the future of some venerable printed journals.

Over time, the breadth of information on the Internet will be enormous, which will make it compelling. Although the gold rush atmosphere today is primarily confined to the United States, I expect it to sweep the world as communications costs come down and a critical mass of localized content becomes available in different countries.

For the Internet to thrive, content providers must be paid for their work. The long-term prospects are good, but I expect a lot of disappointment in the short-term as content companies struggle to make money through advertising or subscriptions. It isn’t working yet, and it may not for some time.

So far, at least, most of the money and effort put into interactive publishing is little more than a labor of love, or an effort to help promote products sold in the non-electronic world. Often these efforts are based on the belief that over time someone will figure out how to get revenue.

In the long run, advertising is promising. An advantage of interactive advertising is that an initial message needs only to attract attention rather than convey much information. A user can click on the ad to get additional information-and an advertiser can measure whether people are doing so.

But today the amount of subscription revenue or advertising revenue realized on the Internet is near zero-maybe $20 million or $30 million in total. Advertisers are always a little reluctant about a new medium, and the Internet is certainly new and different.

Some reluctance on the part of advertisers may be justified, because many Internet users are less-than-thrilled about seeing advertising. One reason is that many advertisers use big images that take a long time to download across a telephone dial-up connection. A magazine ad takes up space too, but a reader can flip a printed page rapidly.

As connections to the Internet get faster, the annoyance of waiting for an advertisement to load will diminish and then disappear. But that’s a few years off.

Some content companies are experimenting with subscriptions, often with the lure of some free content. It’s tricky, though, because as soon as an electronic community charges a subscription, the number of people who visit the site drops dramatically, reducing the value proposition to advertisers.

A major reason paying for content doesn’t work very well yet is that it’s not practical to charge small amounts. The cost and hassle of electronic transactions makes it impractical to charge less than a fairly high subscription rate.

But within a year the mechanisms will be in place that allow content providers to charge just a cent or a few cents for information. If you decide to visit a page that costs a nickel, you won’t be writing a check or getting a bill in the mail for a nickel. You’ll just click on what you want, knowing you’ll be charged a nickel on an aggregated basis.

This technology will liberate publishers to charge small amounts of money, in the hope of attracting wide audiences.

Those who succeed will propel the Internet forward as a marketplace of ideas, experiences, and products-a marketplace of content.”


The Great Web Blackout of 1996

     6/27/2020

The killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis gave the Black Lives Matter movement a new level of prominence and protesting racial injustice jumped into the global spotlight with protests spreading first to Louisville and then to practically every major city in the world. 

Protesting is nothing new but the impacts can be seen far and wide. From the civil rights protests and Vietnam War protests in the 60s they are a way for citizens to use their free speech to enact social change. After all, Amendment I states that "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble."

The 90s was a weird time. In many ways desecularization was gaining momentum in the US and many of the things people feared have turned out to become reality. Many have turned their backs on religion in favor of technology. Neil Gaiman brought this concept to HBO by turning technology into a God. And whether they knew that was what they were worried about or not, the 90s saw a number of movements meant to impose the thought police into intruding into every day life. Battle lines were drawn by people like Tipper Gore, who wanted to slap a label on music and a long and steady backlash to those failures led to many of the culture battles we are fighting with today. These days we say “All Lives Matter” but we often really mean that life was simpler when we went to church.

And many go to church still. But not like we used to. Consider this. 70% of Americans went to church in 1976. Now it’s less than half. And less than a third have been to church in the past week. That shouldn’t take anything away from the impact religion has in the lives of many. But a societal shift has been occurring for sure. And the impact of a global, online, interconnected society is often under-represented.

Imagine this. We have a way of talking to other humans in practically every country in the world emerging. Before, we paid hefty long distance lines or had written communication that could take days or weeks to be delivered. And along comes this weird new medium that allowed us to talk to almost anyone, almost instantly. And for free. We could put images, sounds, and written words almost anonymously out there and access the same. And people did.

The rise of Internet porn wasn’t a thing yet. But we could come home from church and go online and find almost anything. And by anything, it could be porn. Today, we just assume we can find any old kind of porn anywhere but that wasn’t always the case. In fact, we don’t even consider sex education materials or some forms of nudity porn any more. We’ve become desensitized to it. But that wasn’t always the case. And that represented a pretty substantial change. And all societal changes, whether good or bad, deserve a good old fashioned backlash. Which is what the Telecommunications Decency Act title 5 was. 

But the Electronic Frontier Foundation (or EFF) had been anticipating the backlash. The legislation could fine or even incarcerate people for distributing offensive or indecent content. Battle lines were forming between those who wanted to turn librarians into the arbiters of free speech and those who thought all content should be open. 

Then as in now, the politicians did not understand the technology. They can’t. It’s not what got them elected. I’ve never judged that. But they understood that the boundaries of free speech were again being tested and they, as they have done for hundreds of years, wanted to try and limit the pushing of the boundaries. Because sometimes progress is uncomfortable. 

Enter the Blue Ribbon Online Free Speech Campaign, which the EFF was organizing and the Center for Democracy and Technology. The Blue Ribbon campaign encouraged site owners to post images of ribbons on their sites in support. Now, at this point, no one argued these were paid actors. They branded themselves as Netizens and planned to protest. A new breed of protests online and in person. And protest they did. They did not want their Internet or the Internet 25 years later that we have inherited, to be censored. 

Works of art are free. Access to medical information that some might consider scandalous is free. And yes, porn is often free. We called people who ran websites webmasters back then. They were masters of zeros and ones in HTML. The webmasters thought people making laws didn’t understand what they were trying to regulate. They didn’t. But lawmakers get savvier every year. Just as the Internet becomes harder to understand. 

People like Shabir Safdar were unsung heroes. Patrick Leahy, the democratic senator from Vermont spoke out. As did Yahoo and Netscape. They wanted to regulate the Internet like they had done the television. But we weren’t having it. And then, surprisingly Bill Clinton signed the CDA into law. The pioneers of the Internet jumped into action. From San Francisco to the CDT in Brussels, they planned to set backgrounds black. I remember it happening but was too young to understand what it meant at the time. I just thought they were cool looking. 

It was February 8, 1996. And backgrounds were changed for 48 hours. 

The protests were covered by CNN, Time Magazine, the New York Times, and Wired. It got enough attention so the ACLU jumped into the fight. And ultimately the Act was declared unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in 1997. Sandra Day O’Connor and Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote the opinion. It was 9-0. The Internet we have today, for better or worse, was free. As free for posting videos of police killing young black men as it is to post nudes, erotic fiction, or ads to buy viagra. Could it be done again some day? Yes. Will it? Probably. Every few years ago legislators try and implement another form of the act. SOPA, COPA, and the list goes on. But again and again, we find these laws struck down. The thought police had been thwarted. 

As recent as 2012, Reddit wants to protest against SOPA and PIPA - so they try to repeat the blackout. The protests bring enough attention for the Supreme Court to hear a case and the new laws get overturned. Because free speech. And there’s hate speech sprinkled in there as well. Because the Internet helps surface the best and worst of humanity. But you know what, we’re better off for having all of it out there in the open, as hurtful and wonderful and beautiful and ugly as it all can be, according to our perspectives. And that’s the way it should be. Because the knowledge of all of it helps us to grow and be better and address that which needs to be addressed. 

And society will always grapple with adapting to technological change. That’s been human nature since Prometheus stole fire and gave it to humanity. Just as we’ve been trying to protect intellectual property and combat piracy and everything else that can but up against accelerating progress. It’s hard to know where the lines should be drawn. And globalism in the form of globally connected computers doesn’t make any of that any easier. 

So thank you to the heroes who forced this issue to prominence and got the backing to fight it back in the 90s. If it had been over-regulated we might not have the Internet as it is today. Just as it should be. Thank you for helping to protect free speech. Thank you for practicing your free speech. And least of all, thank you for tuning in to this episode of the History of Computing Podcast. Now go protest something!


IETF: Guardians of the Internet

     1/3/2020

Today we’re going to look at what it really means to be a standard on the Internet and the IETF, the governing body that sets those standards. 

When you open a web browser and visit a page on the Internet, there are rules that govern how that page is interpreted. When traffic sent from your computer over the Internet gets broken into packets and encapsulated, other brands of devices can interpret the traffic and react, provided that the device is compliant in how it handles the protocol being used. Those rules are set in what are known as RFCs. It’s a wild concept. You write rules down and then everyone follows them. Well, in theory. It doesn’t always work out that way but by and large the industry that sprang up around the Internet has been pretty good at following the guidelines defined in RFCs. 

The Requests for Comments gives the Internet industry an opportunity to collaborate in a non-competitive environment. Us engineers often compete on engineering topics like what’s more efficient or stable and so we’re just as likely to disagree with people at your own organization as we are to disagree with people at another company. But if we can all meet and hash out our differences, we’re able to get emerging or maturing technology standards defined in great detail, leaving as small a room for error in implementing the tech as possible. This standardization process can be lengthy and slows down innovation, but it ends up creating more innovation and adoption once processes and technologies become standardized. 

The concept of standardizing advancements in technologies is nothing new. Alexander Graham Bell saw this when he started The American Institute of Electrical Engineers in 1884 to help standardize the new electrical inventions coming out of Bell labs and others. That would merge with the Institute of Radio Engineers in 1963 and now boasts half a million members spread throughout nearly every company in the world. And the International Organization for Standardization was founded in 1947. It was as a merger of sorts between the International Federation of the National Standardizing Associations, which had been founded in 1928 and the newly formed United Nations Standards Coordinating Committee. Based in Geneva, they’ve now set over 20,000 standards across a number of industries.

 

I’ll over-simplify this next piece and revisit it in a dedicated episode. The Internet began life as a number of US government funded research projects inspired by JCR Licklider around 1962, out of ARPAs Information Processing Techniques Office, or IPTO. The packet switching network would evolve into ARPANET based on a number of projects he and his successor Bob Taylor at IPTO would fund straight out of the pentagon. It took a few years, but eventually they brought in Larry Roberts, and by late 1968 they’d awarded an RFQ to a company called Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN) to build Interface Message Processors, or IMPs, to connect a number of sites and route traffic. The first one went online at UCLA in 1969 with additional sites coming on frequently over the next few years. 

 

Given that UCLA was the first site to come online, Steve Crocker started organizing notes about protocols in what they called RFCs, or Request for Comments. That series of notes would then be managed by Jon Postel until his death 28 years later. 

 

They were also funding a number of projects to build tools to enable the sharing of data, like file sharing and by 1971 we also had email. Bob Kahn was brought in, in 1972, and he would team up with Vinton Cerf from Stanford who came up with encapsulation and so they would define TCP/IP. By 1976, ARPA became DARPA and by 1982, TCP/IP became the standard for the US DOD and in 1983, ARPANET moved over to TCP/IP.  NSFNet would be launched by the National Science Foundation in 1986.

 

And so it was in 1986 when The Internet Engineering Task Force, or IETF, was formed to do something similar to what the IEEE and ISO had done before them. By now, the inventors, coders, engineers, computer scientists, and thinkers had seen other standards organizations - they were able to take much of what worked and what didn’t, and they were able to start defining standards. 

 

They wanted an open architecture. The first meeting was attended by 21 researchers who were all funded by the US government. By the fourth meeting later that year they were inviting people from outside the hollowed halls of the research community. And it grew, with 4 meetings a year that continue on to today, open to anyone.

 

Because of the rigor practiced by Postel and early Internet pioneers, you can still read those notes from the working groups and RFCs from the 60s, 70s, and on. The RFCs were funded by DARPA grants until 1998 and then moved to the Internet Society, who runs the IETF and the RFCs are discussed and sometimes ratified at those IETF meetings. You can dig into those RFCs and find the origins and specs for NTP, SMTP, POP, IMAP, TCP/IP, DNS, BGP, CardDAV and pretty much anything you can think of that’s become an Internet Standard. A lot of companies claim to the “the” standard in something. And if they wrote the RFC, I might agree with them. 

 

At those first dozen IETF meetings, we got up to about 120 people showing up. It grew with the advancements in routing, application protocols, other networks, file standards, peaking in Y2K with  2,810 attendees. Now, it averages around 1,200. It’s also now split into a number of working groups with steering committees, While the IETF was initially funded by the US government, it’s now funded by the Public Interest Registry, or PIR, which was sold to Ethos Capital in November of 2019. 

 

Here’s the thing about the Internet Society and the IETF. They’re mostly researchers. They have stayed true to the mission since they took over from Pentagon, a de-centralized Internet. The IETF is full of super-smart people who are always trying to be independent and non-partisan. That independence and non-partisanship is the true Internet, the reason that we can type www.google.com and have a page load, and work, no matter the browser. The reason mail can flow if you know an email address. The reason the Internet continues to grow and prosper and for better or worse, take over our lives. The RFCs they maintain, the standards they set, and everything else they do is not easy work. They iterate and often don’t get credit individually for their work other than a first initial and a last name as the authors of papers. 

And so thank you to the IETF and the men and women who put themselves out there through the lens of the standards they write. Without you, none of this would work nearly as well as it all does. And thank you, listeners, for tuning in for this episode of the History of Computing Podcast. We are so lucky to have you.


Stewart Brand: Hippy Godfather of the Interwebs

     12/7/2019

Welcome to the History of Computing Podcast, where we explore the history of information technology. Because understanding the past prepares us for the innovations of the future! Today we’re going to look at the impact Stewart Brand had on computing. Brand was one of the greatest muses of the interactive computing and then the internet revolutions. This isn’t to take anything away from his capacity to create, but the inspiration he provided gave him far more reach than nearly anyone in computing. There’s a decent chance you might not know who he his. There’s even a chance that you’ve never heard of any of his creations. But you live and breath some of his ideas on a daily basis. So who was this guy and what did he do? Well, Stewart Brand was born in 1938, in Rockford, Illinois. He would go on to study biology at Stanford, enter the military and then study design and photography at other schools in the San Francisco area. This was a special time in San Francisco. Revolution was in the air. And one of the earliest scientific studies had him legitimately dosing on LSD. One of my all-time favorite books was The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by Tom Wolfe. In the book, Wolfe follows Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters along a journey of LSD and Benzedrine riddled hippy goodness, riding a converted school bus across the country and delivering a new kind of culture straight out of Haight-Ashbury and to the heart of middle America. All while steering clear of the shoes FBI agents of the day wore. Here he would have met members of the Grateful Dead, Neal Cassady, members of the Hells Angels, Wavy Gravy, Paul Krassner, and maybe even Kerouac and Ginsberg. This was a transition from the Beat Generation to the Hippies of the 60s. Then he started the Whole Earth Catalog. Here, he showed the first satallite imagery of the planet Earth, which he’d begun campaigning NASA to release two years earlier. In the 5 years he made the magazine, he spread ideals like ecology, a do it yourself mentality, self-sufficiency, and what the next wave of progress would look like. People like Craig Newmark of Craig’s List would see the magazine and it would help to form a new world view. In fact, the Whole Earth Catalog was a direct influence on Craig’s List. Steve Jobs compared the Whole Earth Catalog to a 60s era Google. It inspired Wired Magazine. Earth Day would be created two years later. Brand would loan equipment and inspire spinoffs of dozens of magazines and books. And even an inspiration for many early websites. The catalog put him in touch with so, so many influential people. One of the first was Doug Engelbart and The Mother Of All Demos involves him in the invention of the mouse and the first video conferencing. In fact, Brand helped produce the Mother Of All Demos! As we moved into the 70s he chronicled the oncoming hacker culture, and the connection to the 60s-era counterculture. He inspired and worked with Larry Brilliant, Lee Felsenstein, and Ted Nelson. He basically invented being a “futurist” founding CoEvolution Quarterly and spreading the word of digital utopianism. The Whole Earth Software Review would come along with the advent of personal computers. The end of the 70s would also see him become a special advisor to former California governor Jerry Brown. In the 70s and 80s, he saw the Internet form and went on to found one of the earliest Internet communities, called The WELL, or Whole Earth Lectronic Link. Collaborations in the WELL gave us Barlow’s The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a safe haunt for Kevin Mitnick while on the run, Grateful Dead tape trading, and many other Digerati. There would be other virtual communities and innovations to the concept like social networks, eventually giving us online forums, 4chan, Yelp, Facebook, LinkedIn, and corporate virtual communities. But it started with The Well. He would go on to become a visiting scientist in the MIT Media Lab, organize conferences, found the Global Business Network with Peter Schwarts, Jay Ogilvy and other great thinkers to help with promoting values and various planning like scenario planning, a corporate strategy that involves thinking from the outside in. This is now a practice inside Deloitte. The decades proceeded on and Brand inspired whole new generations to leverage humor to push the buttons of authority. Much as the pranksters inspired him on the bus. But it wasn’t just anti-authority. It was a new and innovative approach in an upcoming era of maximizing short-term profits at the expense of the future. Brand founded The Long Now Foundation with an outlook that looked 10,000 years in the future. They started a clock on Jeff Bezos’ land in Texas, they started archiving languages approaching extinction, Brian Eno led seminars about long-term thinking, and inspired Anathem, a novel from one of my favorite authors, Neal Stephenson. Peter Norton, Pierre Omidyar, Bruce Sterling, Chris Anderson of the Economist and many others are also involved. But Brand inspired other counter-cultures as well. In the era of e-zines, he inspired Jesse Dresden, who Brand knew as Jefferson Airplane Spencer Drydens kid. The kid turned out to be dFx, who would found HoHo Con an inspiration for DefCon. Stewart Brand wrote 5 books in addition to the countless hours he spent editing books, magazines, web sites, and papers. Today, you’ll find him pimping blockchain and cryptocurrency, in an attempt to continue decentralization and innovation. He inherited a playful counter-culture. He watched the rise and fall and has since both watched and inspired the innovative iterations of countless technologies, extending of course into bio-hacking. He’s hobnobbed with the hippies, the minicomputer timeshares, the PC hackers, the founders of the internet, the tycoons of the web, and then helped set strategy for industry, NGOs, and governments. He left something with each. Urania was the muse of astronomy, some of the top science in ancient Greece. And he would probably giggle if anyone compared him to the muse. Both on the bus in the 60s, and in his 80s today. He’s one of the greats and we’re lucky he graced us with his presence on this rock - that he helped us see from above for the first time. Just as I’m lucky you elected to listen to this episode. So next time you’re arguing about silly little things at work, think about what really matters and listen to one of his Ted Talks. Context. 10,000 years. Have a great week and thanks for listening to this episode of the History of Computing Podcast.


Topiary: You Cannot Arrest An Idea

     11/18/2019

You Cannot Arrest An Idea Welcome to the History of Computing Podcast, where we explore the history of computers. Because understanding the helps us handle what’s coming in future - and maybe helps us build what’s next, without repeating some of our mistakes. Or if we do make mistakes, maybe we do so without taking things too seriously. Todays episode is a note from a hacker named Topiary, which perfectly wraps feelings many of us have had in words that… well, we’ll let you interpret it once you hear it. First, a bit of his story. It’s February, 2011. Tflow, Sabu, Keila, Topiary, and Ryan Ackroyd attack computer security firm HBGary Federal after CEO Barr decides to speak at a conference outing members of then 7 year old hacking collective Anonymous with the motto: We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us. As a part of Anonymous he would help hack Zimbabwe, Libya, Tunisia and other sites in support of Arab Spring protestors. They would go on to hack Westboro Baptist Church live during an interview. But that was part of a large collective. They would go on to form a group called Lulzsec with PwnSauce and AVunit. At Lulzsec, the 7 went on a “50 days of Lulz” spree. During this time they hit Fox.com, leaked the database of X factor Contestants, took over the PBS news site and published an article that Tupac was still alive and living in New Zealand. They published an article on the Sun claiming Rupert Murdoch died rather than testify in the voice mail hacking trials that were big at the time. They would steal data from Sony, DDoS All the Things, and they would go on to take down and or steal data from the US CIA, Department of Defense, and Senate. The light hearted comedy mixed with a considerable amount of hacking skills had earned them the love and adoration of tens of thousands. What happened next? Hackers from all over the world sent them their Lulz. Topiary helped get their haxies posted. Then Sabu was caught by the FBI and helped to out the others. Or did he. Either way, as one could expect, by July 2011, all had been arrested except AVunit. Topiary’s last tweet said “You cannot arrest an idea.” The British government might disagree. Or maybe counter that you can arrest for acting on an idea. Once unmasked, Jake Davis was in jail and then banned from the Internet for 2 years. During that time Topiary, now known as Jake Davis, wrote what is an exceptional piece of writing, to have come from a 20 year old. Here it is: “Hello, friend, and welcome to the Internet, the guiding light and deadly laser in our hectic, modern world. The Internet horde has been watching you closely for some time now. It has seen you flock to your Facebook and your Twitter over the years, and it has seen you enter its home turf and attempt to overrun it with your scandals and “real world” gossip. You need to know that the ownership of cyberspace will always remain with the hivemind. The Internet does not belong to your beloved authorities, militaries, or multi-millionaire company owners. The Internet belongs to the trolls and the hackers, the enthusiasts and the extremists; it will never cease to be this way. You see, the Internet has long since lost its place in time and its shady collective continues to shun the fact that it lives in a specific year like 2012, where it has to abide by 2012’s morals and 2012’s society, with its rules and its punishments. The Internet smirks at scenes of mass rape and horrific slaughtering followed by a touch of cannibalism, all to the sound of catchy Japanese music. It simply doesn’t give tuppence about getting a “job,” getting a car, getting a house, raising a family, and teaching them to continue the loop while the human race organizes its own death. Custom-plated coffins and retirement plans made of paperwork… The Internet asks why? You cannot make the Internet feel bad, you cannot make the Internet feel regret or guilt or sympathy, you can only make the Internet feel the need to have more lulz at your expense. The lulz flow through all in the faceless army as they see the twin towers falling with a dancing Hitler on loop in the bottom-left corner of their screens. The lulz strike when they open a newspaper and care nothing for any of the world’s alleged problems. They laugh at downward red arrows as banks and businesses tumble, and they laugh at our glorious government overlords trying to fix a situation by throwing more currency at it. They laugh when you try to make them feel the need to “make something of life,” and they laugh harder when you call them vile trolls and heartless web terrorists. They laugh at you because you’re not capable of laughing at yourselves and all of the pointless fodder they believe you surround yourselves in. But most of all they laugh because they can. This is not to say that the Internet is your enemy. It is your greatest ally and closest friend; its shops mean you don’t have to set foot outside your home, and its casinos allow you to lose your money at any hour of the day. Its many chat rooms ensure you nao longer need to interact with any other members of your species directly, and detailed social networking conveniently maps your every move and thought. Your intimate relationships and darkest secrets belong to the horde, and they will never be forgotten. Your existence will forever be encoded into the infinite repertoire of beautiful, byte-sized sequences, safely housed in the cyber cloud for all to observe. And how has the Internet changed the lives of its most hardened addicts? They simply don’t care enough to tell you. So welcome to the underbelly of society, the anarchistic stream-of-thought nebula that seeps its way into the mainstream world — your world — more and more every day. You cannot escape it and you cannot anticipate it. It is the nightmare on the edge of your dreams and the ominous thought that claws its way through your online life like a blinding virtual force, disregarding your philosophies and feasting on your emotions. Prepare to enter the hivemind” I hope Topiary still has a bit of funsies here and there. I guess we all grow up at some point. He now hunts for bug bounties rather than Lulz. One was addressed in iOS 10.13.1 when you could DoS an iOS device by shoving a malicious file into CoreText. That would be CVE-2017-7003. Hacking solutions together or looking for flaws in software. It can be like a video game. For better or worse. But I love that he’s pointed that big ugly Victorian ASCII humble boat in the direction of helping to keep us betterer. And the world is a more secure place today than it was before them. And a bit more light hearted. So thank you Topiary, for making my world better for awhile. I’m sorry you paid a price for it. But I hope you’re well.


The Internet Tidal Wave

     8/15/2019

Welcome to the History of Computing Podcast, where we explore the history of information technology. Because understanding the past prepares us for the innovations of the future! Todays episode is going to be just a little bit unique. Or not unique as the case may be. Bill Gates sent a very important memo on May 26th, 1995. It’s so important because of how well it foreshadows what was about to happen with this weird thing called the Internet. So we’re going to simply provide the unaltered transcript and if you dig it, read a book or two of his. He is a surprisingly good writer. To: Executive Staff and direct reports From: Bill Gates Date: May 26, 1995 The Internet Tidal Wave Our vision for the last 20 years can be summarized in a succinct way. We saw that exponential improvements in computer capabilities would make great software quite valuable. Our response was to build an organization to deliver the best software products. In the next 20 years the improvement in computer power will be outpaced by the exponential improvements in communications networks. The combination of these elements will have a fundamental impact on work, learning and play. Great software products will be crucial to delivering the benefits of these advances. Both the variety and volume of the software will increase. Most users of communications have not yet seen the price of communications come down significantly. Cable and phone networks are still depreciating networks built with old technology. Universal service monopolies and other government involvement around the world have kept communications costs high. Private networks and the Internet which are built using state of the art equipment have been the primary beneficiaries of the improved communications technology. The PC is just now starting to create additional demand that will drive a new wave of investment. A combination of expanded access to the Internet, ISDN, new broadband networks justified by video based applications and interconnections between each of these will bring low cost communication to most businesses and homes within the next decade. The Internet is at the forefront of all of this and developments on the Internet over the next several years will set the course of our industry for a long time to come. Perhaps you have already seen memos from me or others here about the importance of the Internet. I have gone through several stages of increasing my views of its importance. Now I assign the Internet the highest level of importance. In this memo I want to make clear that our focus on the Internet is crucial to every part of our business. The Internet is the most important single development to come along since the IBM PC was introduced in 1981. It is even more important than the arrival of the graphical user interface (GUI). The PC analogy is apt for many reasons. The PC wasn't perfect. Aspects of the PC were arbitrary or even poor. However a phenomena grew up around the IBM PC that made it a key element of everything that would happen for the next 15 years. Companies that tried to fight the PC standard often had good reasons for doing so but they failed because the phenomena overcame any weaknesses that resisters identified. The Internet Today The Internet's unique position arises from a number of elements. TCP/IP protocols that define its transport level support distributed computing and scale incredibly well. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has defined an evolutionary path that will avoid running into future problems even as eventually everyone on the planet connects up. The HTTP protocols that define HTML Web browsing are extremely simple and have allowed servers to handle incredible traffic reasonably well. All of the predictions about hypertext - made decades ago by pioneers like Ted Nelson - are coming true on the Web. Although other protocols on the Internet will continue to be used (FTP, Gopher, IRC, Telnet, SMTP, NNTP). HTML with extensions will be the standard that defines how information will be presented. Various extensions to HTML, including content enhancements like tables, and functionality enhancements like secure transactions, will be widely adopted in the near future. There will also be enhanced 3D presentations providing for virtual reality type shopping and socialization. Another unique aspect of the Internet is that because it buys communications lines on a commodity bid basis and because it is growing so fast, it is the only "public" network whose economics reflect the latest advances in communications technology. The price paid for corporations to connect to the Internet is determined by the size of your "on-ramp" to the Internet and not by how much you actually use your connection. Usage isn't even metered. It doesn't matter if you connect nearby or half way around the globe. This makes the marginal cost of extra usage essentially zero encouraging heavy usage. Most important is that the Internet has bootstrapped itself as a place to publish content. It has enough users that it is benefiting from the positive feedback loop of the more users it gets, the more content it gets, and the more content it gets, the more users it gets. I encourage everyone on the executive staff and their direct reports to use the Internet. I've attached an appendix, which Brian Flemming helped me pull together that shows some hot sites to try out. You can do this by either using the .HTM enclosure with any Internet browser or, if you have Word set up properly, you can navigate right from within this document. Of particular interest are the sites such as "YAHOO" which provide subject catalogs and searching. Also of interest are the ways our competitors are using their Websites to present their products. I think SUN, Netscape and Lotus do some things very well. Amazingly it is easier to find information on the Web than it is to find information on the Microsoft Corporate Network. This inversion where a public network solves a problem better than a private network is quite stunning. This inversion points out an opportunity for us in the corporate market. An important goal for the Office and Systems products is to focus on how our customers can create and publish information on their LANs. All work we do here can be leveraged into the HTTP/Web world. The strength of the Office and Windows businesses today gives us a chance to superset the Web. One critical issue is runtime/browser size and performance. Only when our Office - Windows solution has comparable performance to the Web will our extensions be worthwhile. I view this as the most important element of Office 96 and the next major release of Windows. One technical challenge facing the Internet is how to handle "real-time" content - specifically audio and video. The underlying technology of the Internet is a packet network which does not guarantee that data will move from one point to another at a guaranteed rate. The congestion on the network determines how quickly packets are sent. Audio can be delivered on the Internet today using several approaches. The classic approach is to simply transmit the audio file in its entirety before it is played. A second approach is to send enough of it to be fairly sure that you can keeping playing without having to pause. This is the approach Progressive Networks Real Audio (Rob Glaser's new company) uses. Three companies (Internet Voice Chat, Vocaltec, and Netphone) allow phone conversations across the Internet but the quality is worse than a normal phone call. For video, a protocol called CU-SeeMe from Cornell allows for video conferencing. It simply delivers as many frames per second as it sees the current network congestion can handle, so even at low resolution it is quite jerky. All of these "hacks" to provide video and audio will improve because the Internet will get faster and also because the software will improve. At some point in the next three years, protocol enhancements taking advantage of the ATM backbone being used for most of the Internet will provide "quality of service guarantees". This is a guarantee by every switch between you and your destination that enough bandwidth had been reserved to make sure you get your data as fast as you need it. Extensions to IP have already been proposed. This might be an opportunity for us to take the lead working with UUNET and others. Only with this improvement and an incredible amount of additional bandwidth and local connections will the Internet infrastructure deliver all of the promises of the full blown Information Highway. However, it is in the process of happening and all we can do is get involved and take advantage. I think that virtually every PC will be used to connect to the Internet and that the Internet will help keep PC purchasing very healthy for many years to come. PCs will connect to the Internet a variety of ways. A normal phone call using a 14.4k or 28.8k baud modem will be the most popular in the near future. An ISDN connection at 128kb will be very attractive as the connection costs from the RBOCs and the modem costs come down. I expect an explosion in ISDN usage for both Internet connection and point-to-point connections. Point-to-point allows for low latency which is very helpful for interactive games. ISDN point-to-point allows for simultaneous voice data which is a very attractive feature for sharing information. Example scenarios include planning a trip, discussing a contract, discussing a financial transaction like a bill or a purchase or taxes or getting support questions about your PC answered. Eventually you will be able to find the name of someone or a service you want to connect to on the Internet and rerouting your call to temporarily be a point-to-point connection will happen automatically. For example when you are browsing travel possibilities if you want to talk to someone with expertise on the area you are considering, you simply click on a button and the request will be sent to a server that keeps a list of available agents who can be working anywhere they like as long as they have a PC with ISDN. You will be reconnected and the agent will get all of the context of what you are looking at and your previous history of travel if the agency has a database. The reconnection approach will not be necessary once the network has quality of service guarantees. Another way to connect a PC will be to use a cable-modem that uses the coaxial cable normally used for analog TV transmission. Early cable systems will essentially turn the coax into an Ethernet so that everyone in the same neighborhood will share a LAN. The most difficult problem for cable systems is sending data from the PC back up the cable system (the "back channel"). Some cable companies will promote an approach where the cable is used to send data to the PC (the "forward channel") and a phone connection is used for the back channel. The data rate of the forward channel on a cable system should be better than ISDN. Eventually the cable operators will have to do a full upgrade to an ATM-based system using either all fiber or a combination of fiber and Coax - however, when the cable or phone companies will make this huge investment is completely unclear at this point. If these buildouts happen soon, then there will be a loose relationship between the Internet and these broadband systems. If they don't happen for some time, then these broadband systems could be an extension of the Internet with very few new standards to be set. I think the second scenario is very likely. Three of the biggest developments in the last five years have been the growth in CD titles, the growth in On-line usage, and the growth in the Internet. Each of these had to establish critical mass on their own. Now we see that these three are strongly related to each other and as they come together they will accelerate in popularity. The On-line services business and the Internet have merged. What I mean by this is that every On-line service has to simply be a place on the Internet with extra value added. MSN is not competing with the Internet although we will have to explain to content publishers and users why they should use MSN instead of just setting up their own Web server. We don't have a clear enough answer to this question today. For users who connect to the Internet some way other than paying us for the connection we will have to make MSN very, very inexpensive - perhaps free. The amount of free information available today on the Internet is quite amazing. Although there is room to use brand names and quality to differentiate from free content, this will not be easy and it puts a lot of pressure to figure out how to get advertiser funding. Even the CD-ROM business will be dramatically affected by the Internet. Encyclopedia Brittanica is offering their content on a subscription basis. Cinemania type information for all the latest movies is available for free on the Web including theater information and Quicktime movie trailers. Competition Our traditional competitors are just getting involved with the Internet. Novell is surprisingly absent given the importance of networking to their position however Frankenberg recognizes its importance and is driving them in that direction. Novell has recognized that a key missing element of the Internet is a good directory service. They are working with AT&T and other phone companies to use the Netware Directory Service to fill this role. This represents a major threat to us. Lotus is already shipping the Internotes Web Publisher which replicates Notes databases into HTML. Notes V4 includes secure Internet browsing in its server and client. IBM includes Internet connection through its network in OS/2 and promotes that as a key feature. Some competitors have a much deeper involvement in the Internet than Microsoft. All UNIX vendors are benefiting from the Internet since the default server is still a UNIX box and not Windows NT, particularly for high end demands, SUN has exploited this quite effectively. Many Web sites, including Paul Allen's ESPNET, put a SUN logo and link at the bottom of their home page in return for low cost hardware. Several universities have "Sunsites" named because they use donated SUN hardware. SUN's Java project involves turning an Internet client into a programmable framework. SUN is very involved in evolving the Internet to stay away from Microsoft. On the SUN Homepage you can find an interview of Scott McNealy by John Gage where Scott explains that if customers decide to give one product a high market share (Windows) that is not capitalism. SUN is promoting Sun Screen and HotJava with aggressive business ads promising that they will help companies make money. SGI has also been advertising their leadership on the Internet including servers and authoring tools. Their ads are very business focused. They are backing the 3D image standard, VRML, which will allow the Internet to support virtual reality type shopping, gaming, and socializing. Browsing the Web, you find almost no Microsoft file formats. After 10 hours of browsing, I had not seen a single Word .DOC, AVI file, Windows .EXE (other than content viewers), or other Microsoft file format. I did see a great number of Quicktime files. All of the movie studios use them to offer film trailers. Apple benefited by having TCP support before we did and is working hard to build a browser built from OpenDoc components. Apple will push for OpenDoc protocols to be used on the Internet, and is already offering good server configurations. Apple's strength in education gives them a much stronger presence on the Internet than their general market share would suggest. Another popular file format on the Internet is PDF, the short name for Adobe Acrobat files. Even the IRS offers tax forms in PDF format. The limitations of HTML make it impossible to create forms or other documents with rich layout and PDF has become the standard alternative. For now, Acrobat files are really only useful if you print them out, but Adobe is investing heavily in this technology and we may see this change soon. Acrobat and Quicktime are popular on the network because they are cross platform and the readers are free. Once a format gets established it is extremely difficult for another format to come along and even become equally popular. A new competitor "born" on the Internet is Netscape. Their browser is dominant, with 70% usage share, allowing them to determine which network extensions will catch on. They are pursuing a multi-platform strategy where they move the key API into the client to commoditize the underlying operating system. They have attracted a number of public network operators to use their platform to offer information and directory services. We have to match and beat their offerings including working with MCI, newspapers, and other who are considering their products. One scary possibility being discussed by Internet fans is whether they should get together and create something far less expensive than a PC which is powerful enough for Web browsing. This new platform would optimize for the datatypes on the Web. Gordon Bell and others approached Intel on this and decided Intel didn't care about a low cost device so they started suggesting that General Magic or another operating system with a non-Intel chip is the best solution. Next Steps In highlighting the importance of the Internet to our future I don't want to suggest that I am alone in seeing this. There is excellent work going on in many product groups. Over the last year, a number of people have championed embracing TCP/IP, hyperlinking, HTML, and building client, tools and servers that compete on the Internet. However, we still have a lot to do. I want every product plan to try and go overboard on Internet features. One element that will be crucial is coordinating our various activities. The challenge/opportunity of the Internet is a key reason behind the recent organization. Paul Maritz will lead the Platform group to define an integrated strategy that makes it clear that Windows machines are the best choice for the Internet. This will protect and grow our Windows asset. Nathan and Pete will lead the Applications and Content group to figure out how to make money providing applications and content for the Internet. This will protect our Office asset and grow our Office, Consumer, and MSN businesses. The work that was done in the Advanced Technology group will be extremely important as it is integrated in with our products. We must also invest in the Microsoft home page, so it will be clear how to find out about our various products. Today it's quite random what is on the home page and the quality of information is very low. If you look up speeches by me all you find are a few speeches over a year old. I believe the Internet will become our most important promotional vehicle and paying people to include links to our home pages will be a worthwhile way to spend advertising dollars. First we need to make sure that great information is available. One example is the demonstration files (Screencam format) that Lotus includes on all of their products organized by feature. I think a measurable part of our ad budget should focus on the Internet. Any information we create - white papers, data sheets, etc., should all be done on our Internet server. ITG needs to take a hard look at whether we should drop our leasing arrangements for data lines to some countries and simply rely on the Internet. The actions required for the Windows platform are quite broad. Pual Maritz is having an Internet retreat in June which will focus on coordinating these activities. Some critical steps are the following: 1. Server. BSD is working on offering the best Internet server as an integrated package. We need to understand how to make NT boxes the highest performance HTTP servers. Perhaps we should have a project with Compaq or someone else to focus on this. Our initial server will have good performance because it uses kernel level code to blast out a file. We need a clear story on whether a high volume Web site can use NT or not becaues SUN is viewed as the primary choice. Our plans for security need to be strengthened. Other Backoffice pieces like SMS and SQL server also need to stay out in front in working with the Internet. We need to figure out how OFS can help perhaps by allowing pages to be stored as objects and having properties added. Perhaps OFS can help with the challenge of maintaining Web structures. We need to establish distributed OLE as the protocol for Internet programming. Our server offerings need to beat what Netscape is doing including billing and security support. There will be substantial demand for high performance transaction servers. We need to make the media server work across the Internet as soon as we can as new protocols are established. A major opportunity/challenge is directory. If the features required for Internet directory are not in Cairo or easily addable without a major release we will miss the window to become the world standard in directory with serious consequences. Lotus, Novell, and AT&T will be working together to try and establish the Internet directory. Actually getting the content for our directory and popularizing it could be done in the MSN group. 2. Client. First we need to offer a decent client (O'Hare) that exploits Windows 95 shortcuts. However this alone won't get people to switch away from Netscape. We need to figure out how to integrate Blackbird, and help browsing into our Internet client. We have made the decision to provide Blackbird capabilities openly rather than tie them to MSN. However, the process of getting the size, speed, and integration good enough for the market needs works and coordination. We need to figure out additional features that will allows us to get ahead with Windows customers. We need to move all of our Internet value added from the Plus pack into Windows 95 itself as soon as we possible can with a major goal to get OEMs shipping our browser preinstalled. This follows directly from the plan to integrate the MSN and Internet clients. Another place for integration is to eliminate today's Help and replace it with the format our browser accepts including exploiting our unique extensions so there is another reason to use our browser. We need to determine how many browsers we promote. Today we have O'Hare, Blackbird, SPAM MediaView, Word, PowerPoint, Symettry, Help and many others. Without unification we will lose to Netscape/HotJava. Over time the shell and the browser will converge and support hierarchical/list/query viewing as well as document with links viewing. The former is the structured approach and the later allows for richer presentation. We need to establish OLE protocols as the way rich documents are shared on the Internet. I am sure the OpenDoc consortium will try and block this. 3. File sharing/Window sharing/Multi-user. We need to give away client code that encourages Windows specific protocols to be used across the Internet. It should be very easy to set up a server for file sharing across the Internet. Our PictureTel screen sharing client allowing Window sharing should work easily across the Internet. We should also consider whether to do something with the Citrix code that allows you to become a Windows NT user across the Network. It is different from the PictureTel approach because it isn't peer to peer. Instead it allows you to be a remote user on a shared NT system. By giving away the client code to support all of these scenarios, we can start to show that a Windows machine on the Internet is more valuable than an artitrary machine on the net. We have immense leverage because our Client and Server API story is very strong. Using VB or VC to write Internet applications which have their UI remoted is a very powerful advantage for NT servers. 4. Forms/Languages. We need to make it very easy to design a form that presents itself as an HTML page. Today the Common Gateway Interface (CGI) is used on Web servers to give forms 'behavior' but its quite difficult to work with. BSD is defining a somewhat better approach they call BGI. However we need to integrate all of this with our Forms3 strategy and our languages. If we make it easy to associate controls with fields then we get leverage out of all of the work we are doing on data binding controls. Efforts like Frontier software's work and SUN's Java are a major challenge to us. We need to figure out when it makes sense to download control code to the client including a security approach to avoid this being a virus hole. 5. Search engines. This is related to the client/server strategies. Verity has done good work with Notes, Netscape, AT&T and many others to get them to adopt their scalable technology that can deal with large text databases with very large numbers of queries against them. We need to come up with a strategy to bring together Office, Mediaview, Help, Cairo, and MSN. Access and Fox do not support text indexing as part of their queries today which is a major hole. Only when we have an integrated strategy will we be able to determine if our in-house efforts are adequate or to what degree we need to work with outside companies like Verity. 6. Formats. We need to make sure we output information from all of our products in both vanilla HTML form and in the extended forms that we promote. For example, any database reports should be navigable as hypertext documents. We need to decide how we are going to compete with Acrobat and Quicktime since right now we aren't challenging them. It may be worth investing in optimizing our file formats for these scenarios. What is our competitor to Acrobat? It was supposed to be a coordination of extended metafiles and Word but these plans are inadequate. The format issue spans the Platform and Applications groups. 7. Tools. Our disparate tools efforts need to be brought together. Everything needs to focus on a single integrated development environment that is extensible in a object oriented fashion. Tools should be architected as extensions to this framework. This means one common approach to repository/projects/source control. It means one approach to forms design. The environment has to support sophisticated viewing options like timelines and the advanced features SoftImage requires. Our work has been separated by independent focus on on-line versus CD-ROM and structured display versus animated displays. There are difficult technical issues to resolve. If we start by looking at the runtime piece (browser) I think this will guide us towards the right solution with the tools. The actions required for the Applications and Content group are also quite broad. Some critical steps are the following: 1. Office. Allowing for collaboration across the Internet and allowing people to publish in our file formats for both Mac and Windows with free readers is very important. This won't happen without specific evangelization. DAD has written some good documents about Internet features. Word could lose out to focused Internet tools if it doesn't become faster and more WYSIWYG for HTML. There is a critical strategy issue of whether Word as a container is strict superset of our DataDoc containers allowing our Forms strategy to embrace Word fully. 2. MSN. The merger of the On-line business and Internet business creates a major challenge for MSN. It can't just be the place to find Microsoft information on the Internet. It has to have scale and reputation that it is the best way to take advantage of the Internet because of the value added. A lot of the content we have been attracting to MSN will be available in equal or better form on the Internet so we need to consider focusing on areas where we can provide something that will go beyond what the Internet will offer over the next few years. Our plan to promote Blackbird broadly takes away one element that would have been unique to MSN. We need to strengthen the relationship between MSN and Exchange/Cairo for mail, security and directory. We need to determine a set of services that MSN leads in - money transfer, directory, and search engines. Our high-end server offerings may require a specific relationship with MSN. 3. Consumer. Consumer has done a lot of thinking about the use of on-line for its various titles. On-line is great for annuity revenue and eliminating the problems of limited shelf-space. However, it also lowers the barriers to entry and allows for an immense amount of free information. Unfortunately today an MSN user has to download a huge browser for every CD title making it more of a demo capability than something a lot of people will adopt. The Internet will assure a large audience for a broad range of titles. However the challenge of becoming a leader in any subject area in terms of quality, depth, and price will be far more brutal than today's CD market. For each category we are in we will have to decide if we can be #1 or #2 in that category or get out. A number of competitors will have natural advantages because of their non-electronic activities. 4. Broadband media applications. With the significant time before widescale iTV deployment we need to look hard at which applications can be delivered in an ISDN/Internet environment or in a Satellite PC environment. We need a strategy for big areas like directory, news, and shopping. We need to decide how to persue local information. The Cityscape project has a lot of promise but only with the right partners. 5. Electronic commerce. Key elements of electronic commerce including security and billing need to be integrated into our platform strategy. On-line allows us to take a new approach that should allow us to compete with Intuit and others. We need to think creatively about how to use the Internet/on-line world to enhance Money. Perhaps our Automatic teller machine project should be revived. Perhaps it makes sense to do a tax business that only operates on on-line. Perhaps we can establish the lowest cost way for people to do electronic bill paying. Perhaps we can team up with Quickbook competitors to provide integrated on-line offerings. Intuit has made a lot of progress in overseas markets during the last six months. All the financial institutions will find it very easy to buy the best Internet technology tools from us and others and get into this world without much technical expertise. The Future We enter this new era with some considerable strengths. Among them are our people and the broad acceptance of Windows and Office. I believe the work that has been done in Consumer, Cairo, Advanced Technology, MSN, and Research position us very well to lead. Our opportunity to take advantage of these investments is coming faster than I would have predicted. The electronic world requires all of the directory, security, linguistic and other technologies we have worked on. It requires us to do even more in these ares than we planning to. There will be a lot of uncertainty as we first embrace the Internet and then extend it. Since the Internet is changing so rapidly we will have to revise our strategies from time to time and have better inter-group communication than ever before. Our products will not be the only things changing. The way we distribute information and software as well as the way we communicate with and support customers will be changing. We have an opportunity to do a lot more with our resources. Information will be disseminated efficiently between us and our customers with less chance that the press miscommunicates our plans. Customers will come to our "home page" in unbelievable numbers and find out everything we want them to know. The next few years are going to be very exciting as we tackle these challenges are opportunities. The Internet is a tidal wave. It changes the rules. It is an incredible opportunity as well as incredible challenge I am looking forward to your input on how we can improve our strategy to continue our track record of incredible success. HyperLink Appendix Related reading, double click to open them On-line! (Microsoft LAN only, Internet Assistant is not required for this part): * "Gordon Bell on the Internet" email by Gordon Bell * "Affordable Computing: advertising subsidized hardware" by Nicholas Negroponie * "Brief Lecture Notes on VRML & Hot Java" email by William Barr * "Notes from a Lecture by Mark Andresson (Netscape)" email by William Barr * "Application Strategies for the World Wide Web" by Peter Pathe (Contains many more links!) Below is a hotlist of Internet Web sites you might find interesting. I've included it as an embedded .HTM file which should be readable by most Web Browsers. Double click it if you're using a Web Browser like O'Hare or Netscape. HotList.htm A second copy of these links is below as Word HTML links. To use these links, you must be running the World Internet Assistant, and be connected to the Web. Cool, Cool, Cool.. The Lycos Home Page Yahoo RealAudio Homepage HotWired - New Thinking for a New Medium Competitors Microsoft Corporation World-Wide-Web Server Welcome To Oracle Lotus on the Web Novell Inc. World Wide Web Home Page Symantec Corporation Home Page Borland Online Disney/Buena Vista Paramount Pictures Adobe Systems Incorporated Home Page MCI Sony Online Sports ESPNET SportsZone The Gate Cybersports Page The Sports Server Las Vegas Sports Page News CRAYON Mercury Center Home Page Travel/Entertainment ADDICTED TO NOISE CDnow The Internet Music Store Travel & Entertainment Network home page Virtual Tourist World Map C(?) Net Auto Dealernet Popular Mechanics


Spam, Email, and Best Intentions

     10/4/2020

Spam emails are a fact of modern life. Who hasn't been sent annoying and sometimes cryptic messages from unidentified addresses? To understand where spam comes from we need to look at the origins of email itself. Email has had a long and strange history, so too have some of it's most dubious uses.

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Memex and Hyperlinks

     3/22/2020

The widespread use of the internet has shaped our world, it's hard do imagine the modern day without it. One of the biggest featured would have to be the hyperlink. But despite the modern net feeling so new, links actually date back as far as the 1930s and the creation of the Memex: a machine that was never built but would influence coming generations of dreamers.

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Important dates in this episode:

1927: Differential Analyzer Built at MIT
1938: Rapid Selector Built by Vannevar Bush
1945: As We May Think Published


Networking for a Nuclear War, the Soviets

     7/28/2019

Often times people assume the US is the homeland of the internet. Funded by the US Department of Defence, the first attempts at a large-scale network were started during the height of the Cold War, and a large part of it's design was redundancy and robust-ness. Some of the researchers were quite frank about it's purpose: to create a network that could survive an upcoming nuclear war. This military-hardened infrastructure was known as ARPANET.


But that's only part of the story, and the US wasn't the first to the party. The fact is, the internet was born during the Cold War. This was an era that saw huge advancements in science, both for better and for worse. The space race put humans on the moon, and the nuclear arms race put humans dangerously close to annihilation. So it should be no surprise that America's counterpart in this age, the Soviet Union, was working towards their own proto-internet.


Networking for a Nuclear War, the Americans

     8/11/2019

In this episode we are going to explore the ARPANET. This is a companion to the last episode, which covered contemporary Soviet attempts to create an early internet.

Like with last time, today we are still in the Cold War era. Now, this won't be a point by point comparison of Soviet to US networks. They are totally different beasts. Instead, what I want to do is look at how ARPANET was developed, what influenced it, and how it would kick start the creation of the internet.


How Not To Network A Nation: The Russian Internet That Wasn't

     11/2/2020

I just finished reading a book by Ben Peters called How Not To Network A Nation: The Uneasy History of the Soviet Internet. The book is an amazing deep dive into the Soviet attempts to build a national information network primarily in the 60s. The book covers a lot of ground and has a lot of characters, although the most recurring is Viktor Glushkov, and if the protagonist isn’t the Russian scientific establishment, perhaps it is Viktor Glushkov. And if there’s a primary theme, it’s looking at why the Soviets were unable to build a data network that covered the Soviet Union, allowing the country to leverage computing at a micro and a macro scale 

The final chapter of the book is one of the best summaries and most insightful I’ve ever read on the history of computers. While he doesn’t directly connect the command and control heterarchy of the former Soviet Union to how many modern companies are run, he does identify a number of ways that the Russian scientists were almost more democratic, or at least in their zeal for a technocratic economy, than the US Military-Industrial-University complex of the 60s.  

The Sources and Bibliography is simply amazing. I wish I had time to read and listen and digest all of the information that went into the making if this amazing book. And the way he cites notes that build to conclusions. Just wow.

In a previous episode, we covered the memo, “Memorandum for Members and Affiliates of the Intergalactic Computer Network” - sent by JCR Licklider in 1963. This was where the US Advanced Research Projects Agency instigated a nationwide network for research. That network, called ARPAnet, would go online in 1969, and the findings would evolve and change hands when privatized into what we now call the Internet. We also covered the emergence of Cybernetics, which Norbert Wiener defined in 1948 as a the systems-based science of communication and automatic control systems - and we covered the other individuals influential in its development. 

It’s easy to draw a straight line between that line of thinking and the evolution that led to the ARPAnet. In his book, Peters shows how Glushkov uncovered cybernetics and came to the same conclusion that Licklider had, that the USSR needed a network that would link the nation. He was a communist and so the network would help automate the command economy of the growing Russian empire, an empire that would need more people managing it than there were people in Russia, if the bureaucracy continued to grow at a pace that was required to do the manual computing to get resources to factories and good to people. He had this epiphany after reading Wiener’s book on cybernetics - which had been hidden away from the Russian people as American propaganda. 

Glushkov’s contemporary, Anatoly Kitov had come to the same realization back in 1959. By 1958 the US had developed the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment, or SAGE. The last of that equipment went offline in 1984. The environment was a system of networked radar equipment that could be used as eyes in the sky to detect a Soviet attack. It was crazy to think about that a few years ago, but think today about a radar system capable of detecting influence in elections and maybe notsomuch any more. SAGE linked computers built by IBM. 

The Russians saw defense as cost prohibitive. Yet at Stalin’s orders they began to develop a network of radar sites in a network of sorts around Moscow in the early 50s, extending to Leningrad. They developed the BESM-1 mainframe in 1952 to 1953 and while Stalin was against computing and western cybernetic doctrine outside of the military, as in America, they were certainly linking sites to launch missiles. Lev Korolyov worked on BESM and then led the team to build the ballistic missile defense system. 

So it should come as no surprise that after a few years Soviet scientists like Glushkov and Kitov would look to apply military computing know-how to fields like running the economics of the country. 

Kitov had seen technology patterns before they came. He studied nuclear physics before World War II, then rocketry after the war, and he then went to the Ministry of Defence at Bureau No 245 to study computing. This is where he came in contact with Wiener’s book on Cybernetics in 1951, which had been banned in Russia at the time. Kitov would work on ballistic missiles and his reputation in the computing field would grow over the years. Kitov would end up with hundreds of computing engineers under his leadership, rising to the rank of Colonel in the military. 

By 1954 Kitov was tasked with creating the first computing center for the Ministry of Defence. They would take on the computing tasks for the military. He would oversee the development of the M-100 computer and the transition into transistorized computers. By 1956 he would write a book called “Electronic Digital Computers” and over time, his views on computers grew to include solving problems that went far beyond science and the military. Running company

Kitov came up with the Economic Automated Management System in 1959. This was denied because the military didn’t want to share their technology. Khrushchev sent Brezhnev, who was running the space program and an expert in all things tech, to meet with Kitov. Kitov was suggesting they use this powerful network of computer centers to run the economy when the Soviets were at peace and the military when they were at war. 

Kitov would ultimately realize that the communist party did not want to automate the economy. But his “Red Book” project would ultimately fizzle into one of reporting rather than command and control over the years. 

The easy answer as to why would be that Stalin had considered computers the tool of imperialists and that feeling continued with some in the communist party. The issues are much deeper than that though and go to the heart of communism. You see, while we want to think that communism is about the good of all, it is irrational to think that people will act ways in their own self-interest. Microeconomics and macroeconomics. And automating command certainly seems to reduce the power of those in power who see that command taken over by a machine. And so Kitov was expelled from the communist party and could no longer hold a command. 

Glushkov then came along recommending the National Automated System for Computation and Information Processing, or OGAS for short, in 1962. He had worked on computers in Kyiv and then moved to become the Director of the Computer Center in Ukraine at the Academy of Science. Being even more bullish on the rise of computing, Glushkov went further even added an electronic payment system on top of controlling a centrally planned economy. Computers were on the rise in various computer centers and other locations and it just made sense to connect them. And they did at small scales. 

As was done at MIT, Glushkov built a walled garden of researchers in his own secluded nerd-heaven. He too made a grand proposal. He too saw the command economy of the USSR as one that could be automated with a computer, much as many companies around the world were employing ERP solutions in the coming decades. 

The Glushkov proposal continued all the way to the top. They were able to show substantial return on investment yet the proposal to build OGAS was ultimately shot down in 1970 after years of development. While the Soviets were attempting to react to the development of the ARPAnet, they couldn’t get past infighting. The finance minister opposed it and flatly refused. There were concerns about which ministry the system would belong to and basically political infighting much as I’ve seen at many of the top companies in the world (and increasingly in the US government). 

A major thesis of the book is that the Soviet entrepreneurs trying to build the network acted more like capitalists than communists and Americans building our early networks acted more like socialists than capitalists. This isn’t about individual financial gains though. Glushkov and Kitov in fact saw how computing could automate the economy to benefit everyone. But a point that Peters makes in the book is centered around informal financial networks. Peters points out that Blat, the informal trading of favors that we might call a black market or corruption, was common place. An example he uses in the book is that if a factory performs at 101% of expected production the manager can just slide under the radar. But if they perform at 120% then those gains will be expected permanently and if they ever dip below the expected productivity, they might meet a poor fate. Thus Blat provides a way to trade goods informally and keep the status quo. A computer doing daily reports would make this kind of flying under the radar of Gosplan, or the Soviet State Planning Committee difficult. Thus factory bosses would likely inaccurately enter information into computers and further the Tolchachs, or pushers, of Blat. 

A couple of points I’d love to add onto those Peters made, which wouldn’t be obvious without that amazing last paragraph in the book. The first is that I’ve never read Bush, Licklider, or any of the early pioneers claim computers should run a macroeconomy. The closest thing that could run a capitalist economy. And the New York Stock Exchange would begin the process of going digital in 1966 when the Dow was at 990. The Dow sat at about that same place until 1982. Can you imagine that these days? Things looked bad when it dropped to 18,500. And the The London Stock Exchange held out going digital until 1986 - just a few years after the dow finally moved over a thousand. Think about that as it hovers around $26,000 today. And look at the companies and imagine which could get by without computers running their company - much less which are computer companies. There are 2 to 6 billion trades a day. It would probably take more than the population of Russia just to push those numbers if it all weren’t digital. In fact now, there’s an app (or a lot of apps) for that. But the point is, going back to Bush’s Memex, computers were to aid in human decision making. In a world with an exploding amount of data about every domain, Bush had prophesied the Memex would help connect us to data and help us to do more. That underlying tenant infected everyone that read his article and is something I think of every time I evaluate an investment thesis based on automation. 

There’s another point I’d like to add to this most excellent book. Computers developed in the US were increasingly general purpose and democratized. This led to innovative new applications just popping up and changing the world, like spreadsheets and word processors. Innovators weren’t just taking a factory “online” to track the number of widgets sold and deploying ICBMs - they were foundations for building anything a young developer wanted to build. The uses in education with PLATO, in creativity with Sketchpad, in general purpose languages and operating systems, in early online communities with mail and bulletin boards, in the democratization of the computer itself with the rise of the pc and the rapid proliferation with the introduction of games, and then the democratization of raw information with the rise of gopher and the web and search engines. Miniaturized and in our pockets, those are the building blocks of modern society. And the word democratization to me means a lot.

But as Peters points out, sometimes the Capitalists act like Communists. Today we close down access to various parts of those devices by the developers in order to protect people. I guess the difference is now we can build our own but since so many of us do that at #dayjob we just want the phone to order us dinner. Such is life and OODA loops.

In retrospect, it’s easy to see how technological determinism would lead to global information networks. It’s easy to see electronic banking and commerce and that people would pay for goods in apps. As the Amazon stock soars over $3,000 and what Jack Ma has done with Alibaba and the empires built by the technopolies at Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and dozens of others. In retrospect, it’s easy to see the productivity gains. But at the time, it was hard to see the forest through the trees. The infighting got in the way. The turf-building. The potential of a bullet in the head from your contemporaries when they get in power can do that I guess. 

And so the networks failed to be developed in the USSR and ARPAnet would be transferred to the National Science Foundation in 1985, and the other nets would grow until it was all privatized into the network we call the Internet today, around the same time the Soviet Union was dissolved. As we covered in the episode on the history of computing in Poland, empires simply grow beyond the communications mediums available at the time. By the fall of the Soviet Union, US organizations were networking in a build up from early adopters, who made great gains in productivity increases and signaled the chasm crossing that was the merging of the nets into the Internet. And people were using modems to connect to message boards and work with data remotely. Ironically, that merged Internet that China has splinterneted and that Russia seems poised to splinter further. But just as hiding Wiener’s cybernetics book from the Russian people slowed technological determinism in that country, cutting various parts of the Internet off in Russia will slow progress if it happens.

The Soviets did great work on macro and micro economic tracking and modeling under Glushkov and Kitov. Understanding what you have and how data and products flow is one key aspect of automation. And sometimes even more important in helping humans make better-informed decisions. Chile tried something similar in 1973 under Salvador Allende, but that system failed as well. 

And there’s a lot to digest in this story. But that word progress is important. Let’s say that Russian or Chinese crackers steal military-grade technology from US or European firms. Yes, they get the tech, but not the underlying principals that led to the development of that technology. Just as the US and partners don’t proliferate all of their ideas and ideals by restricting the proliferation of that technology in foreign markets. Phil Zimmerman opened floodgates when he printed the PGP source code to enable the export of military-grade encryption. The privacy gained in foreign theaters contributed to greater freedoms around the world. And crime. But crime will happen in an oppressive regime just as it will in one espousing freedom. 

So for you hackers tuning in - whether you’re building apps, hacking business, or reingineering for a better tomorrow: next time you’re sitting in a meeting and progress is being smothered at work or next time you see progress being suffocated by a government, remember that those who you think are trying to hold you back either don’t see what you see, are trying to protect their own power, or they might just be trying to keep progress from outpacing what their constituents are ready for. And maybe those are sometimes the same thing, just from a different perspective. Because go fast at all costs not only leaves people behind but sometimes doesn’t build a better mousetrap than what we have today. Or, go too fast and like Kitov you get stripped of your command. No matter how much of a genius you, or your contemporary Glushkov are. The YouTube video called “Internet of Colonel Kitov” has a great quote: “pioneers are recognized by the arrows sticking out of their backs.” But hey, at least history was on their side! 

Thank you for tuning in to the History of Computing Podcast. We are so, so, so lucky to have you. Have a great day and I hope you too are on the right side of history!


(OldComputerPods) ©Sean Haas, 2020