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February 2005 Newsletter


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January 24 saw the twentieth anniversary of perhaps the most important computer advance of the personal computer age - the release of the Macintosh computer by Apple Inc in 1985.

You would have had to used a computer before the Macintosh to realise what an advance it was. For a start, it was the first personal computer to bring to market the "Windows" software invented by the Xerox Palo Alto Laboratories. (PCs waited until 1995 to adopt the same basic technology). It did many other things as well - it was probably the first computer with a friendly interface, the first to play music, the first to allow you to draw pictures and to introduce voice technologies. It was a remarkable step forward which, when accompanied by the desktop publishing software Apple introduced a few years later, saw the personal computer revolution take a giant step forward.

To celebrate, Wired Magazine published a number of articles with more detail on this - try,2125,61730,00.html as a starting point.

To quote Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, "It's real easy to see that every computer in the world's a Macintosh now. There was a time when Windows wasn't Windows. They had Microsoft DOS, and DOS was lines you had to type. And the funny thing is, when they switched over -- Windows 95, Windows 98 -- now they've got a Macintosh."

The revolutionary advances of the Macintosh would be enough to get it into my list of the 100 top gadgets ever invented, but apparently everyone doesn't see it that way. Mobile PC Mag just published such a list of the 100 greatest gadgets of all time, and as might be expected it's top heavy with notebook computers and handhelds. Quite fun to read though, and a great idea, even if I don't entirely agree with their findings.



Another link to our past disappears in the next few months with AOL announcing its intention to drop the USENET newsgroups which once dominated the Internet.

Just as the Mac pioneered computers as socially useful tools, the USENET pioneered social interaction between groups on the Internet - as such it can be seen as the forerunner of chat sites, on line forums, online conferencing and collaboration software.

Usenet dates from about 1979. AOL picked it up about 1994 - remember that AOL and Compuserve and other on line companies at first did not see the potential of the Internet and took some time to realise that their proprietary approaches to email provision and online services were going nowhere. So AOL was something of a late adopter.

Newsgroups were prolific, starting from computing science groups, and spreading to fan clubs, sport, you name it there was a newsgroup for it. Organisations like the Association for Progressive Communications started to produce their own more private newsgroups, and some more advanced software, and these text based forums for exchange of views were second only to email in the early days of the Internet as a form of social exchange. They began the phenomena of "virtual communities" which Howard Rheingold and others were to popularise some years later. They also gave birth to the online phenomena of "flaming" - a form of behaviour contributed to by the lack of subtle meaning conveyed by text messages, particularly before emoticons, and also by the lack of social skills of computer scientists. Flaming became a much written about art form before it gradually became to be seen as immature behaviour.

USENet more than anything was responsible for the social culture of the Internet, which with the World Wide Web took on new dimensions.

Ronda and Michael Hauben have written a great book on the Usenet phenomena; you can get a link from

Alternatively, if you just want a quick taste before ordering the book, First Monday published a number of chapters of the book a few years ago and you can get a good overview from these links.



Congratulations to Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn, awarded the prestigious Turing Award for their contribution to networked computing.

In previous newsletters we have explored the question of who invented the Internet from a number of perspectives - there are a number of legitimate claims to the title and a number of worthwhile contributions.

What Cerf and Kahn gave us was TCP/IP, the protocol on which the Internet runs.

Katie Hafner has written an excellent article on this in the New York Times Or check the newsletters in our archives as regards the various contributors.

What cannot be denied, however, in the long and particularly valuable contributions Bob and Vint have made to the Internet.

Vint Cerf in particular has been pivotal during many phases of its evolution, playing major roles in the beginnings of IETF, the Internet Society, and continuing his dedication to this day as the Chair of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Vint's contribution has been a lifetime of dedication.

Back in the early 1990s, Vint lead the "IP on Everything" revolution. At the time, governments were toying with the idea of a protocol for communications based on the OSI standards, without much agreement and consequently without any accompanying software or hardware development, and major industry players were building and marketing their own proprietary standards while attending trade shows and talking about high level futuristic goals such as "connectivity" and "interoperability". And personal computer enthusiasts were building their own network called FidoNet based on the dominant MS DOS software from Microsoft.

The Internet changed all that. Eventually, the Internet Protocols won out and were widely adopted, laying the foundation for the world wide web to be developed as a truly useful global network.
Bob Kahn was active through this time as well. This was an enormous contribution, and the award is highly deserved.



This year we are expanding the ways you can learn about the History of the Internet by offering an Internet History Certificate Course.

This course will be run over 10 weeks, and you can commence at any time. Once you subscribe, a lesson will be sent to you every
7 days. You should allow up to one hour per week for reading the lessons, reviewing them, and of course you may of course wish to supplement this with extra research.

After you have received all ten lessons, the last message you will receive contains your Internet History Assignment for you to complete. No essays are involved: just a series of questions to ensure you have taken in the information provided during the course

Graduation grades are PASS, CREDIT, and DISTINCTION. If you fail, you are entitled to sit again in order to obtain a pass result at no extra charge.

On completion, you will be mailed your personalised Graduation Certificate.


1. If I have to go away for a few weeks in the middle of the
course, does that matter?

No, you can finish it in your own time. The courses will be sent regularly to your mailbox, but the choice is yours as to when you submit your final examination assignment

2. Am I allowed to look at my course notes while doing the

Yes, but we do suggest see how much you can complete from memory before going back to the notes.

3. Does the course have academic standing?

This course has not formal academic standing with most educational institutions, but many may choose to recognise it as evidence of your studies in this field.

4. What does it cost?

The complete course costs $US36.00, including 10 lessons, assessment, and postage of your graduation certificate.

5. How do I join?

Look for the link from


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