The Internet Explosion: The 1990s

The Internet Explosion: The 1990s

The 1990s were ushered in with numerous events that symbolized the continued development and the soon-to-arrive commercialization of the Internet. ARPAnet, the progenitor of the Internet, ceased to exist. MILNET and the Defense Data Network had grown in the 1980s to carry most of the US Department of Defense-related traffic and NSFNET had begun to serve as a backbone network connecting regional networks in the United States and national networks overseas. In 1991, NSFNET lifted its restrictions on the use of NSFNET for commercial purposes. NSFNET itself would be decommissioned in 1995, with Internet backbone traffic being carried by commercial Internet Service Providers.

The main event of the 1990s, however, was to be the appearance of the World Wide Web application, which brought the Internet into the homes and businesses of millions of people worldwide. The Web served as a platform for enabling and deploying hundreds of new applications, that we take for granted today. For a brief history of the early days of the Web, see [W3C 1995].

The Web was invented at CERN by Tim Berners-Lee between 1989 and 1991 [Berners-Lee 1989], based on ideas originating in earlier work on hypertext from the 1940s by Vannevar Bush [Bush 1945] and since the 1960s by Ted Nelson [Xanadu 2009]. Bernrs-Lee and his associates developed initial versions of HTML, HTTP, a Web server, and a browser - the four key components of the Web. Around the end of 1993 there were about two hundred Web servers in operation, this collection of servers being just a forerunner of what was about to come. At about this time various researchers were developing Web browsers with GUI interfaces, including Marc Andreessen, who led the development of the popular GUI browser Mosaic. In 1994 Marc Andreessen and Jim Clark formed Mosaic Communications, which later became Netscape Communications Corporation [Cusumano 1998; Quittner 1998]. By 1995, university students were using Mosaic and Netscape browsers to surf the Web on a daily basis. At about this time companies - big and small - began to operate Web servers and transact commerce over the Web. In 1996, Microsoft started to make browsers, which started the browser war between Netscape and Microsoft, which Microsoft won a few years later [Cusumano 1998].

The second half of the 1990s was a period of marvelous development and improvement for the Internet, with major corporations and thousands of startups creating Internet products and services. Internet e-mail continued to develop with feature-rich mail readers providing address books, attachments, hot links, and multimedia transport. By the end of the millennium the Internet was supporting hundreds of well-liked applications, including four killer applications:

●  E-mail, including attachments and Web-accessible e-mail
●  The Web, including Web browsing and Internet commerce
●  Instant messaging, with contact lists, pioneered by ICQ
●  Peer-to-peer file sharing of MP3s, pioneered by Napster

Interestingly, the first two killer applications came from the research community, whereas the last two were created by a few young entrepreneurs.

The period from 1995 to 2001 was a roller-coaster ride for the Internet in the financial markets. Before they were even profitable, hundreds of Internet startups made initial public offerings and started to be traded in a stock market. Many companies were valued in the billions of dollars without having any considerable revenue streams. The Internet stocks collapsed in 2000-2001, and many startups shut down. However, many companies appeared as big winners in the Internet space, including Microsoft, Cisco, Yahoo, e-Bay, Google, and Amazon.


gui interface, killer applications, server

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