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Internet Time
History of Computer Networking 1998-2003

Explosive Internet growth in the late 1990s dramatically affected the evolution of computer networking. Some new network technologies and initiatives boomed but quickly faded into oblivion. Others have stood the test of time.

Below I've highlighted my picks for the top movers and shakers in the history of computer networking during this stretch of "Internet time."
Related Resources
Part 1 - Broadband, P2P, Apache
Part 2 - Cisco, Carnivore, IPv6
Related Resources
History and Future of Networking
Broadband Resources
P2P Resources
Apache Resources
Carnivore and Echelon Resources
IPv6 Resources
Home Broadband
High-speed home networking struggled to get off the ground in 1997 and 1998. Cable modem was the first broadband option available to many, but only a few hundred thousand subscribed to Internet cable in that first year. In 1999, competition from DSL kicked in, but DSL availability remained quite limited at first. The expected competition from satellite services did not emerge until later, and even today, satellite services remain a distant third in the home broadband market.

It took until 2001 for home broadband to enter mainstream usage and begin growing at a faster rate than Internet dial-up services. Although the networking industry continues to promote broadband as the future pathway to new and exciting Internet applications, tens of millions of U.S. households remain on dial-up. The spirited battle between cable and DSL also continues.

Although many in the industry remain disappointed in the slow adoption rate of home broadband, initial concerns over a) reliability of DSL, b) security of cable modem, c) broadband accessiblity in rural areas, and d) viability of the broadband service providers, have all largely been addressed. The future of home broadband appears quite promising.

Napster and Peer to Peer
A 19 year-old student named Shawn Fanning dropped out of college in 1999 to build a piece of software called Napster. Within a few months, Napster became one of the most popular software applications of all time. People all over the world regularly logged into Napster to freely swap music files in the MP3 digital format. Some proclaimed Napster "revolutionary." It certainly created a large stir in the industry press.

Users invested large amounts of time and energy in Napster. They also consumed big chunks of network bandwidth. Some universities and businesses reacted by banning or blocking Napster to keep their networks stable, generating even more controversy.

Napster was built using a network design technique called peer-to-peer (P2P). Though peer networking had existed for decades, Napster generated a new wave of interest in P2P. Many startup and some established companies jumped on the P2P bandwagon, activitely promoting new or rehashed, generally unproven business opportunities based on this technology.

Both Napster and corporate P2P have rapidly faded into obscurity. Napster faced the wrath of the music industry establishment, who claimed that open music file sharing violated copyright laws. The legal process moved slowly, but eventually the courts shut Napster down. Corporate interest in P2P suffered a similar fate. The allure of Napster proved to be its openness, not its network architecture, and initiatives to create comparable paid services have all stuggled mightily to get off the ground.

Score one for the Open Source movement. Since 1996, and despite formidable competition from the likes of Microsoft, Apache has remained the world's most popular Web server by a wide margin. Web site owners frequently choose Apache for its reliability, performance and zero cost. Apache works well not only for "mom-and-pop" sites but also supports some of the busiest Web sites on the Internet.

Today, Apache has expanded well beyond its original roots as a mere HTTP server to support numerous new Internet technologies including Web Services. Apache should remain a key Internet technology for years to come.

Next page > Cisco, Carnivore, and IPv6 > Page 1, 2

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