On July 22, the Wall Street Journal, owned by Rubert Murdoch’s Newscorp, posted this piece where they gave credit for the internet to Xerox, claiming that the Government had little to no role in its creation.
Once I had finished rolling on the floor with laughter, this old computer hacker had to rip this piece apart.
The foundations of the Internet are found in two pieces of technology, called Transmission Control Protocol, or TCP, and Internet Protocol, or IP. Together they make the Internet Protocol suite, called TCP/IP that makes the Internet possible.
The origin of TCP/IP began with the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, or ARPA. The original internet, which began development in the 1950′s and was called ARPAnet, utilized a system called the Network Control Protocol, NCP. The original NCP was very limited in scope and the rapid growth of the ARPAnet was going to overwhelm it. ARPA put out a Request for Comments (RFC) for upgrades to the system. After months of comments and suggestions, two ARPA engineers, Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn, submitted the paper which became the foundation of the Internet Protocol Suite, titled “A Protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication.”
The WSJ’s claim is instead focused on Ethernet, without understanding anything about Ethernet. Ethernet is a Local Area Network technology derived in part from ALOHANet, a government developed networking system created by the University of Hawaii in 1968. Notice the key word, however, “Local.” Ethernet is not able to, as their article claims, connect to remote installations. It is distance limited, typically to inside of a building. It also relies upon a transmission protocol for its operation.
The most common transmission protocol for Ethernet to use is TCP/IP, but other protocols exist such as FibreChannel, DECnet, AppleTalk, QNet, and dozens of others. But TCP/IP is not limited to Ethernet, and works successfully over Token Ring, fiber optic, even telephone lines such as using a modem.
The WSJ even made an error in saying that the US Government had divested itself of any role in the internet by claiming that the National Science Foundation’s backbone was shut down in 1995. While the NSF did have its root server transferred to a cluster in 1995, this was not the only part of the US Government with direct ties to the internet. Today, there remain three root servers run by the federal government; E run by NASA, G run by the Defense Information Systems Agency and H run by the US Army Research Lab. Two others are run by state agencies; B by the University of Southern California and D by the University of Maryland. These servers, designated by the letters A through M, are the backbones of the internet, enabling it to work worldwide.
Even when the WSJ got something right, they got it wrong. The US Government was not involved in the creation of hyperlinks, but Tim Berners-Lee does not get that credit either. Hyperlinks were created by Harvard student Ted Nelson in 1960 for Project Xanadu. From there it was utilized in various other works, such as HyperCard on the Apple Macintosh platform, and the internet tool Gopher. Tim Berners-Lee utilized the technology in the CERN project ENQUIRE in 1980, which was the system which eventually became HTML and the World Wide Web. CERN, incidentally, is short for the European Organization for Nuclear Research, Europe’s version of ARPA.
The WSJ not only got things wrong, it got them very wrong. Each of these technologies were developed from government, not private initiatives. As a result, these technologies thrived while the privately developed technologies, such as Xanadu and Token Ring, withered and fell into disuse. Their attempt to claim “they did it on their own” instead demonstrated that the Wall Street Journal has indeed lost its journalistic ethics with the buyout from Newscorp.
A sad statement for what once was the bastion of journalistic integrity. But at least they did not try to claim Al Gore said he invented it.