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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Web celebrates a birthday

by Mark Ollig

This week we remember a historic milestone.

The spark which ignited what is today known as the “Web” began on March 12, 1989.

For it was on this date, when Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist working in Switzerland’s European Organization for Nuclear Research, otherwise known as CERN, delivered what, according to his supervisor, was a “vague but exciting” proposal.

This proposal described developing a distributed information management system for the CERN laboratory.

Berners-Lee wrote about a client/server computing model for a distributed hypertext system.

A computer with an installed client software program would allow a user to effortlessly browse information stored in remotely located, hypertexted, computing servers on CERN’s network.

His proposed model is what led to the merging of hypertext with the Internet.

Berners-Lee called his creation a “global hypertext system.”

He suggested a global hypertext “space” be created in which any network-accessible information could be referred to by what he called a Universal Document Identifier (UDI).

Today, it is known as the Uniform Resource Locator or URL, which we type, or paste into a web browser, in order to access a particular resource or website.

Berners-Lee finished coding the new client web-browser software he called the “WorldWideWeb Program” in 1990. It was later renamed “Nexus.”

He used a work station computer called a NeXT (NeXTcube), to write the code for the first web browser.

The NeXT computer was from a company founded by Apple’s Steve Jobs and other folks, who had worked on Apple’s Macintosh and Lisa computers.

Early web browsers had names like Erwise, Viola, Cello, and Mosaic.

Berners-Lee also wrote the web server program using the NeXTcube.

This computer was the first web server.

Here is a photograph of the NeXTcube as it was displayed in 2005 at CERN’s Microcosm science museum:

A copy of: “Information Management: A Proposal,” which was the document Berners-Lee submitted to CERN, and which eventually led to the World Wide Web, is to the left of the keyboard in the photograph.

I smiled while noticing the faded sticker Berners-Lee most likely attached to the front of the NeXTcube’s tower case, saying: “This machine is a server. DO NOT POWER DOWN!!”

This caution sticker took me back to the day when I used them at work.

It sometimes took hours to run the Reflection program script files I would code using a Text Pad editor.

The lines of text, or “tuples” I created in it were for adding hundreds, and sometimes thousands of numbers, or other specific, call-processing related information, into various software tables contained inside the digital telephone switches I maintained.

It was very important not to touch any of the keys on the keyboard, so as not to interrupt the script file program actively running while connected (via telnet) to the digital switch.

While these automated script files were dumping information into a particular digital switch, I had time to leave my workstation, and grab a cup a coffee.

As a precaution, yours truly would tape a piece of paper over his computer screen, warning others with the words: “Do Not Touch Keyboard! Executing Script File in Progress!”

By December of 1989, Berners-Lee had completed the world’s first webpage. Here is a screen capture of “Tim’s Home Page”:

Some people still think the Internet and the Web are the same; however, this is not true.

The Internet is a type of mesh topology network, which includes computers, routers, gateways, and cables used to carry (transmit/receive) logical packets of voice, video, and data information.

Think of a packet like the contents of an envelope with a mailing address on it.

If you put the right address on a packet, and hand it off to a device connected on the Internet network, the programming inside the device (a router or server for example) will determine the best path to use to get the packet to its final destination.

The Internet quickly delivers packets over its network to anywhere in the world using TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol).

This is yours truly’s condensed description of how the Internet performs.

Tim Berners-Lee created a hyper-texting program which would link the information contained inside webpages stored on computers connected to the Internet, and make them simple to access, clearly discernible, and easily distributable to others.

Berners-Lee realized his distributed information management system concept proposal for CERN, could also be implemented throughout the world; thus creating a World-Wide Web.

His proposal’s conclusion from 1989 includes; “We should work toward a universal linked information system.”

The front page of Berners-Lee’s proposal is here:

You can see his detailed proposal at:

And so I end this week’s column by saying, “Happy 25th birthday to the World Wide Web, and thank you to Sir Tim Berners-Lee.” 

We can only imagine how far the Web will progress during the next 25 years.