Tuesday November 22, 2005
scrottie is old! Listen to the tale of the Internet in 1991
Here's some trivia, though the experience of living through 14 years of Internet has been non-trivial. I may be mixing names up a bit, but all of this is true, in some combination.
Searches used to be conducted with a service called Archie. Queries would be emailed to a certain email address, and usually within 5 or 10 minutes, results would be emailed back to you. Later, forms on a Gopher page would trigger the process.
Most Universities, offices, and private citizens didn't run a TCP/IP stack on workstations. Instead, dialup was text based, and the Unix (or VAX) shell was the gateway to the Internet. From that shell, VT100/shell applications could be run, such as the gopher client, telnet, and ftp, could be run. Workstations generally ran DOS, then later Windows 3.1, or else early versions of MacOS, though people would dial up from Amigas, Macs, Atari 8 bits (400, 800, XL, XE -- as in my case), Commodore 64s, Apple ][s, and so on and so forth. pine was a popular vt100 application for email, and lynx would become the de-facto Web browser for a good long while. Rather than IM, people used the Unix 'talk' commands, and Unix hosts all ran a talk daemon so users could chat with each other. During a talk session, the screen would be split into two, and you could see your friend type at you in real-time. 'finger' and the finger daemon let you find last-login and idle times, as well as office location and "plan" information (a text file provided by them). For ages, the .plan files served the purpose that home pages serve now. Your Unix shell account rolled up all of the features of filesharing, chat, email, social networking, a home page, etc, that people now use various Websites for, and generally served as your home on the 'net. When you left a company or University, your account may or may not be closed, but, generally, they would forward your email for you even if they closed the account. Hence email accounts would commonly remain valid for 10 years.
Terminal servers would often answer the phone. You'd run a terminal on your machine, dial a number, log into the terminal server (or not log in but be able to connect to any computer on the University/corporate network), and then connect to whereever you wish.
The University of Minnesota made an Internet suite, with a gopher browser, ftp client, telnet client, and a few other goodies, that was a DOS app with a built in TCP/IP stack, and the ka9q (named after the author's HAM license number) application provided a similar suite for the Amiga.
At first, Ethernet adapters were used primarily by PC and Mac hardware for using now little known protocols such as Banyan Vines and earlier versions of Novell's protocl (which live on as SMB/CIFS/etc in Windows) then later AppleTalk. MacTCP later gave Macs TCP/IP, and WinSock for Windows 3.1 became popular and Ethernet cards started connecting "personal computers" to the Internet over Ethernet rather than just by SLIP.
Non-integrated applications had to be written to replace the monolithic applications that built in SLIP and required SLIP over a serial/dial-up connection.
"Personal computers" were still vastly inferior to high-end Unix workstations, such as Apollo, Sun Microsystems (which were then still based on the 68000 series of chips from Motorola), NeXT, and the DEC 2100 and 3100 MIPS machines. Many University computer science departments provided small or large labs of Unix workstations on a local area network. It was here that graphical Internet applications were bourne -- Mosaic, the WWW browser with support for graphics via a new img tag, and xtrek, the multiplayer space combat game that required frantic mouse clicking.
Mosaic automated the viewing of images. The process was previously involved -- you had to ftp (plus zmodem download if you were on dialup) them from some site or save them from the newsgroup (then zmodem them if on dialup), then view them with image viewer software. At first, there were jpeg views and gif viewers, but delux image viewers later came out that would do both.
Eventually NCSA would port Mosaic to the PC, but by then, Netscape had formed by the authors of Mosaic and released their own port/version of Mosaic. The "fetch" FTP client for the Mac was one of the earlest and best-known graphical FTP clients.
Sun Microsystems had optical mice, for the most part, that required special mouse pads to operate. The mouse pads were reflective, but had thousands of tiny black lines in them. The lasers counted the passing lines to track their position. The reflective material invariably wore off, leaving dead patches over which the mouse would not operate.
Most software that related to the Internet in any was distributed as source code and compiled from Makefile. The Makefile would have to be hand edited, and it was not the least bit uncommon to have to fix some portability/platform problems while compiling -- software written for a Sun could usually be made to run on an HP Apollo with little work, and software was witten to avoid tickling platform specific problems. Program authors would make #ifdefs controllable from the Makefile to turn platform specific feature use on and off to aid in portability.
Even after the advent of Windows 3.1, then years later, 95, and the advant of Macintosh System 7, personal computer platforms were not robust. Attempting to use telnet and netscape at the same time, for example, lead to quick crashes. Anything involving multitasking multiple networked applications quickly took out both platforms.
Netscape was a series of infrequent binary releases, each release adding features and generally improving stability (Netscape 4.7 aside).
However, Web use exploded, driven by the wide deployment of personal computers, and people still Microsoft Windows to this day, god only knows why.