Over at Three Word Chant they have uncovered a Newsweek article from 1995 by Clifford Stoll, entitled “The Internet? Bah!” telling us why the internet would ultimately fail to fulfil all the predictions made about it.
Clifford was not some nay-saying crackpot, he knew his stuff, he was just wrong. Funny thing is, back then I probably would have agreed with him and I’m going to be a little bit controversial here – I think Microsoft played a big part in his predictions not coming true.
Back in the early 90s I had just left university. I’d been playing with big unix machines so I had an idea of what this internet thing was all about. I signed up with Demon back in those early days, getting my internet for a tenner a month, plus all those huge phone bills. I grappled with the wonderful KA9Q running in DOS, pulling down my email and usenet. The internet was black and white, it was text and it was the domain of the geek.
In 1992 I joined what is now the largest pharmaceutical company in the world and I had email at home a long time before I had email at work. We had a unix machine down in the computer room, one of the first in the company, and being on the second floor we had some rather long serial leads running down to it from our consoles. It was a battle setting up the software and gateways to bring TCP/IP onto the network. My home PC had an IP address, none of the PCs at the company did.
I was given the first 486 PC in the department and would proudly show off Windows 3.11. I fought winsock clients and won, discovered Mosaic and then Netscape. I proudly set up home on Geocities and subscribed to Wired magazine – which arrived in the post from the US each month.
My finger was on the pulse… and I didn’t believe the hype. If you had told me then that every TV programme would have a website, every business card worth its ink would have at least one @ and a www on it, I probably would have laughed at you.
And then picked up my Nokia 101 and phoned the other person I knew with a mobile and told them how funny you were.
Ah, the benefits of 20:20 hindsight.
So what happened? Well, remember what I said about Winsock and that lack of TCP/IP? Huge barriers to getting online to anyone other than the geeks. Then came Windows 95, or Windows 95 Plus! to be precise. Because that is when we got Internet Explorer. Suddenly, you could buy a new PC with a TCP/IP stack and a browser pre-installed. 15 years ago, Microsoft gave the web a great big jump-start.
Before you accuse me of being a Bill Gates crony, jump forward a couple of years to 1997 and Internet Explorer 4. This is when IE became so deeply entangled in the operating system that they started killing Netscape and playing monopoly.
Excuse me while I go off on a tangent…
Write or Wordpad were not anti-competitive word processors. They were a useful tool that kept you going until you bought Wordstar, Wordperfect or even Word.
IE 1,2 or 3 were stepping stones – your PC could get you online so you could choose the browser you were going to live with. Download Netscape, never touch IE again.
…so, yes, since IE4 Microsoft’s approach to the browser market was unnecessarily evil.
But they still deserve some credit. In those 2 years Microsoft made a significant contribution to making the internet mainstream.
Now I need to go and have a rest, before I start praising AOL…
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