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Wiring the World
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The Future of the Internet

The networked world imagined by Bush, Licklider, Nelson, and others is finally becoming a reality after three decades and countless hours of late-night hacking and field testing. Many of the predicted benefits of the "Intergalactic Network" are being realized, but new paradigms are constantly created and either thrive or disappear. The "fast as light" pace of the Internet can kill or establish an idea quicker than a marketing department can come up with an ad campaign. One of the products that has thrived is the cross-platform language called Java.

James Gosling James Gosling, a senior programmer at Sun Microsystems, was working on the forefront of new ideas. He had already established himself as one of the world's best programmers, and his job at Sun was to push the limits of computers. However, in 1991 he felt like he was in a rut. Scott McNealy sensed something wrong and asked Gosling if there was a problem. Gosling told him the current operating systems were too restrictive and he wanted to create his own. McNealy told him to do it - no matter what the cost or amount of time.

After three years of hard work by Gosling and a handpicked team of programmers and hardware specialists, the result was Java. Its original intent was to embed a common operating system in household and office appliances, and network them together. A revolutionary idea, but the $20,000 price-tag for a "super" remote made it impractical. However, the cross-platform Java language was quickly accepted around the world for its other properties: cross-platform, object-oriented, network-secure, and easy to program.

A Bigger Pipe
Traffic on the Internet today includes Java applets, streaming video and audio, subscription channels, as well as HTML and email. The government has handed over several sections of the Internet to private companies, and the capacity of the Internet's backbone has been increased to keep up with the exponential growth in traffic. Over the last few years new technologies have widened bandwidth to handle the increased traffic, but engineers don't know how long they'll be able to keep ahead of demands on the network.

Yogi Bera once said that "nobody goes to that restaurant anymore because it's too crowded." Many experts in computer networks, such as Vint Cerf, are predicting an equivalent problem for the Internet in the near future. They warn that too much traffic will shut everything down. To prevent the problem, we'll need faster networks and more efficient protocols.

In answer, there are two competing LAN technologies promising a ten-fold increase in network speeds - ATM (Asynchronus Transfer Mode) and gigabit Ethernet. To handle the faster speeds, a new Internet Protocol has been proposed, IPng (IP new generation, or IPv6). It's designed to handle the growing size of the Internet and faster network speeds. Just as the ARPAnet was based on open standards, all three of these technologies are nonproprietery. And just as the ARPAnet spawned a new industry, new companies are popping up to market products - and some of the players are very familiar.

Larry Roberts is currently President and CEO of Packetcom, a company that designs switches for ATM. One of the leaders in gigabit Ethernet technologies, Granite Systems, was founded by Andy Bechtolsheim (from Sun), but he eventually sold that company to Cisco Systems. Cisco is laying bets on all possible outcomes with products for gigabit Ethernet, ATM, and IPng. To help administrators manage their routers, Cisco recently licensed Novell Directory Services technology (NDS) from Novell. NDS is written in Java. On the browser front, AOL has offered to buy Netscape for over $4 billion. Meanwhile, Microsoft still fights an anti-trust lawsuit with witnesses from Sun, Novell, Netscape, AOL, and others.

The Internet has a rich history with colorful characters and comlex plots. This Web site has only presented a small part of its history, and many more stories remain mostly untold. As for the future of the Internet, most people admit it is uncertain, but everyone must agree that it will certainly be interesting and remain an important part of our future.

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