In 1990 and 1991, I made three trips around the world to write a “technical travelogue.” The result was the book Exploring the Internet, originally published by Prentice-Hall. Perhaps because they felt the Internet trend had passed, or more likely because of the less-than-mainstream appeal, they allowed the book to go out of print. I decided to republish the book on the Internet in the hope that perhaps it retains some minor historical interest.
When I wrote the book, the Internet was just about ready to explode. Most of the people I visited have remained key players in the development of the global network. Many of them have become steadfast friends, and I am still grateful to them for opening up their homes to let me in.
At times, the book has a slight edge to it and there are still some people that are a bit sore. I wanted the book to be more than many fine lunches and dinners (and I made a point of finding the most unusual of these to try and relieve the tedium of too many acronyms (TMA)). In some cases, such as the focus of OSI, my wrath was directed at things that have ended up in the dustbin of history. In other cases though, such as the importance of making standards available or the importance of a bottom-up approach to building networks, I believe the issues are still crucially important.
I didn’t censor myself, and wrote a fairly straightforward narrative. I did leave one thing out, though. When I was in Switzerland, I stopped by CERN to learn about X.400 mail gateways, a concept that has become as relevant to today’s Internet as the rest of OSI. Brian Carpenter suggested that I stop by a lab and look at a little program running on a NeXT computer.
There, I met Tim Berners-Lee who showed me his not-yet-announced concoction, the World Wide Web. Interesting little program, I thought to myself, but not very relevant. My thought, as I walked out of the office was “it won’t scale,” so I left it out of this book. Everytime I hear a pundit with a definite opinion, I remember that experience. We are all still trying to understand the implications of the Internet and anybody who has the answers is asking the wrong questions.
After I wrote this book, I decided to stop writing for a while and build a network. The result was the Internet Multicasting Service, a non-profit research group that spent four years building services on the Internet.
As part of that experience, I was able to draw on the friendships I made while writing this book. Four people in particular who are profiled in this book – Rob Blokzijl, Simon Hackett, Jun Murai, and Mike Schwartz – ended up working with me on many of the Internet Multicasting Service projects and have become some of my most valued friends. It is to them that I dedicate this electronic edition of Exploring the Internet.
I also want to thank Dan Lynch, Mike Millikin, and Ole Jacobsen of Interop, who paid for my travel expenses on this journey. It is not often that a corporation is adventurous enough to fund an avant-garde professional reference book and I remain thankful for their support.