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Happy Birthday internet!

On September 2, 1969, as bits of zeros and ones flowed silently between two computers through a cable the first test was done to exchange data in a network. Its been 35 long and amazing years from this test to the modern internet today, used by more than 945 million users for whom the global communications network is a way of life.

Stephen Crocker and Vinton Cerf were among the graduate students who joined UCLA professor Len Kleinrock in an engineering lab on September 2, 1969, as data packets zipped through two computers based on a Honeywell DDP 516.

The nodes were later hooked by 50 Kbps circuits to two other sites (SRI and UCSB) in the four-node network: UCLA, Stanford Research Institute (SRI), UC Santa Barbara (UCSB), and the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

The internet, then known as ARPANET, was brought online in 1969 under a contract let by the renamed Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), which initially connected four major computers at universities in the southwestern US.

While, the debate continues about the ‘real birthday’ of the internet and people like Al Gore (the ex-US vice president) taking credit for it, the first data transmission technically paved the way for the birth of internet — similar to Alexander Graham Bell calling his assistant Watson in his laboratory.

Then in 1973, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) initiated a research program to investigate techniques and technologies for interlinking packet networks of various kinds. The military project was called the Internetting project and the system of networks that emerged from the research was known as the ‘Internet’ or the first prototype of today’s internet.

The system of protocols which was developed over the course of this research effort became known as the TCP/IP Protocol Suite, after the two initial protocols developed: Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP).

With other application protocols such as e-mail in the early 70s, the creation of Ethernet in the late 70’s, the World Wide Web powered by powered by HTML in the early 90s and improved software applications such as browsers the world has seen a sea of change.

Affecting existing business models (read brick and mortar) to creating new e-commerce sites, to related applications such as peer to peer, music downloads, instant messaging, chat rooms, search engines, online auction sites, web cams, billions of searchable web-pages in just about every major language to terabytes of downloadable software, web-mail, making phone calls (IP Telephony), online journals (blogs) to gaming — all chugging along 24 hours a day, serving users in more than 200 countries.

Ask a teenager today what spam is, and he will tell you it’s junk mail (not a can of ham); a cookie (a small piece of information that a server sends to a client) and not necessarily a chocolate chip cookie; chat and he will point you to an online chat room; and he spends more time on broadband gaming than playing football in the playground. The chances of him visiting a local library are faint, compared to him using Google.com; and he has more online friends than ‘real friends’; and the chances of him writing a postcard are slim compared to him shooting of e-mail or an e-greeting. The same goes for music and downloading an MP3 or writing an entire assignment using the internet.

Come to think of it, the whole 90’s generation has embraced the internet as a daily way of life. Employees are now called information workers, who start their day by checking their e-mail to sending out proposals through the internet, or communicating with their suppliers and partners through the extranet or making a long distance on the IP-telephony network, or working on the report from a hotspot (WiFi) in the airport to teleworkers, for whom the home is the office.

And all this is just a mouse click and a keystroke away; it makes one ask ‘how did we ever live without it?’

Infact, the theory is just about everything we could offline or in the real world can be done online or in the virtual world, barring a few bodily functions. A snap shot of today’s internet would resemble an organism — growing, evolving, replicating with an intelligence of it’s own.

Even the Middle East, which was a late entrant to the party has made up for it. The number of internet users in the Arab world is expected to reach 25 million by the end of 2005.

Although 35 years may seem like eons the internet is still a teenager, with growing pains. With spam, worms, viruses, hackers, the internet is also turning into a breeding ground for cyber-terrorists, pedophiles, disinformation propagandas.

Add the raging battle between copyright holders and users who use the internet and the word ‘free’ synonymously, besides technical limitations of the current IP 4 addressing system, ever-growing demand for bandwidth and information overload — all this could curtail its growth.

Looking back, neither the scientist’s nor the US military had imagined, that the internet would turn into this massive communications fabric wrapping the globe. The initial protocols, which were created 30 years ago, were limited to 32 bits, which technically allowed for 4.3 billion different number combinations. But the massive appetite of internet community is on the verge of exhausting it.

However, before that happens, the companies which power the internet are already building the next generation internet and gear up to accommodate the project 1.46 billion users by 2007. For instance, the Internet2 project a not-for-profit research and development consortium is a consortium being led by more than 200 universities and 60 companies is already paving the way since it kicked off eight years ago.

The next generation of Internet Protocol version 6, is picking up momentum thanks to the efforts of the internet engineering task force (IETF). The five-year old protocol promises to creates enough IP addresses for more than 6 billion people on the planet with everyone having 1,000 web-enabled devices.

On the eve of internet’s 35th birthday, an international team has broken their own record and set a new Internet2(R) land speed record by transferring 859 gigabytes of data in less than 17 minutes across nearly 16,000 kilometers of networks at a rate of 6.63 gigabits per second, about 10,000 times faster than a typical home broadband connection.

This seems like a quantum leap to the early adopters of the internet who got online on their 9.6 Kbps modems on a crawling dial-up connection — just 10 years ago.

Combining with improved security, wider adoption of mobile broadband (3G), the promise of IP6 and WiMax, which will take today’s wireless internet to the last mile — the next birthday of internet could be a different party altogether.

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