Sunday, October 16, 2005

So, The Internet Started In 1995?

Maybe I am just to harsh on IT journalism or people writing about technical issues they just don't understand, but sometimes popular scientific articles are simply so far away from the truth, it drives me crazy. This also makes you wonder about all other kind of popular scientific publishing. I know about software, and most popular software articles are plain nonsense. That is were I notice. But what about topics regarding medicine, biology or physics? Is the same happening there as well?

E.g. Dan Brown's book Digital Fortress was cheered by the press, but littered with nonsense each time it came to talk about cryptographic issues.

Today, Austrian Broadcasting Corporation's tech portal ORF Futurezone published an article about the history of the Internet, stating that "Europe accepted TCP/IP and the Internet architecture in 1995" and "the ISO/OSI committees and telephone companies were opposing TCP/IP, as the were favoring the ISO/OSI networking model". You can't be serious! I mean I understand the average Internet user today might think the Internet started in the mid-90's with the first graphical browsers Mosaic (1993) and Netscape (1994), but IT journalists should know better.

Error in reasoning #1: Defining the Internet equal to the World Wide Web. One might argue that the WWW took off in 1994 with the first graphical browsers available on widespread operating systems like Windows 3 or MacOS. But WWW was and is just a subset of Internet protocol standards (mainly HTTP and HTML) and some server and browser implementations. When I took Internet classes at university in 1994, WWW was mentioned as one of several appliances next to Gopher, FTP, Mail, Usenet, Archie, WAIS and the like. In 1992 when I connected to the Internet for the first time, I did so to read Usenet. Predecessor network ARPANet had been introduced in 1969, and soon after the first mails were sent and files were transferred.

Error in reasoning #2: Putting ISO/OSI network model and TCP/IP in conflict. A short answer to that one: The ISO/OSI is a model for network protocol classification, TCP/IP is a concrete network protocol standard and implementationm where TCP is located at ISO/OSI layer 4 (transport layer), and IP at layer 3 (network layer).

Error in reasoning #3: Taking one interviewee's word for granted that there was European opposition (e.g. telephone companies) to the Internet and TCP/IP until 1995. Truth is: Norway was the first European country to connect its research institutions to the ARPANet already in 1973. Austria followed quite late, and joined NSFNet in 1989. The first commercial providers in Austria were founded in the early 90's, when the Internet was opened for commercial usage. If there was opposition from telephone companies, that was true for the US as well. Bob Taylor, ARPANet project lead, was running against windmills at AT&T for years, because packet-switching just did not fit into their circuit-switching-infested brains.