Lots of folks thind that Al Gore invented the Internet – they are wrong! It was Apple Computer!
OK, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration – but it is true that Apple, people working for Steve Jobs at both Apple and NeXT are directly responsible for the web as we know it. And I’ll tackle Al’s influence here as well.
Now before you go all spamieval on my ass, let me take a few moments to illustrate some facts before I go on to my conclusion.
The essence of everything: Hypertext
Hypertext is a notion that has been around since 1962, when Ted Nelson wrote about “Non-Sequential Writing” in his book “Literary Machines.” Later, Doug Englebart described what he called “Hyper Documents” at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in 1968. The next big thing (and most profound change) came about when Ted Nelson created a project he called “Xanadu” which was about the distributed, hypertext-like storage of copywritten materials. Between the two of these primary researchers, the notion of human navigated documents interlinked by citation and reference became the future-tech du jour. Not a lot happened for quite a while, as people talked about this new notion and worked through a variety of projects – but in many ways, technology and the public in general were not ready for this new way of thinking/operating.
The first sea-change: HyperCard
In 1987, Bill Atkinson, working for Apple, released a little program he called “HyperCard” based on the hyper-text notions of Nelson and Englebart. The significant advances that lead to this were primarily the Graphical User Interface (the original Macintosh interface) and the speed of computers, which allowed for scripted languages rather than just compiled languages. Atkinson had been working on it since 1985 and it was a brilliant confluence of the Macintosh’s trademark ease of use and the awesome potential of Hypertext. But the world was not yet ready for Apple and Atkinson’s next prescient move: they released it for free with every new Macintosh. Unfortunately, this was an unheard of precedent and completely marginalized the HyperCard program and its progeny HyperTalk. Under the visionless eyes of utterly gray-and-IBM Amelio and Scully, the “Hyper” stuff that Apple was developing became immensely popular with Mac users and devotees, but suffered a cruel heat-death with the company and corporate users.
Jobs, NeXT and Tim Berners-Lee
By 1987 Steve Jobs had exited Apple was on to bigger and better things. He founded NeXT, which was a Unix-based operating system and computer that was far and away the most powerful personal system available at that time. Unfortunately, if was not a commercial success even as it was raved on by scientists and researchers. In fact, NeXT’s NeXTSTEP operating system was the basis for the OS-X that we know and love today. Almost every cool thing that we see on the Mac today was at one time a research project or experiment on the NeXT platform. But far and away the most important thing that came from NeXT was built by a young gentleman working at CERN named Tim Berners-Lee. Taking advantage of the advanced rapid development tools of the NeXT platform, the inspiration of HyperCard and the most important thing, his academic connection to the then-infantile “Internet” – he created a little application that changed the world and called it “WorldWideWeb.” This application was first released into the wild in 1990 and it defined a new form of communications protocol called HTTP or Hyper Text Transmission Protocol. It was a way for information to be interlinked in a hypertext way between interconnected servers using their “Domain Name” or address. Occupying a niche in higher education and science is what got the NeXT computer into Tim’s hands – and CERN’s connection to the Internet was the piece he was looking for.
The World’s First Browser
At the same time, Pei-Yuan Wei at UC Berkeley was working on another system called “Viola” which was an attempt to bring the functionality of HyperCard to the XWindows (Unix) environment. Wei intended to interconnect in a way that was more akin to the HyperDocuments architecture by Englebart, but after seeing HTTP by Berners-Lee he adapted it to his XWindows app and created the worlds first modern browser, NCSA Mosaic. Wei was working under an initiative that was authored and advocated by then-Senator Al Gore – the High Performance Computing and Communications Act of 1991 – which funded the development of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications’ High-Performance Computing and Communications Initiative – which included the Mosiac Web Browser.
Connecting the Dots
Could someone else have followed this path and invented the web as we know it today? Of course! It’s also arguable that Louis Pasteur might not have figured out that boiling milk killed the viruses and other harmful creatures that lived in it – but the fact is, he did – and the line I just described created the Internet as we know it today. Did they build it from research gathered by others? Of course! Everything we know today has been built by standing on the shoulders of other great men. But again, the line I just described shows the brilliant minds that synthesized the then-existing data into a new and exciting frontier… and the capability for you to read this document in the first place.
So all you Apple-haters go ahead – hate and malign all you want. But while you’re doing so on your blogs, forums, wikis, websites and such – remember that the technology was brought to you by way of the very company that you are slamming.
Alright: Open season on Perk! Give it your best.