The Early Internet Vision: Public and Free

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Linux: Free Open Source Alternative to Microsoft Windows

Guest Post by Steven Miller and Satish Musunuru

(Part 2 of a five-part series on the corporatization of Internet surveillance.)

Back to the Future

Back in the early 1990s, the Internet was barely beginning. Everyone was dazzled about the possibilities of a universal communicator, where any could connect to any other individual or any other thing for free. The US Post Office was prepared to offer universal connectivity to everyone. Infinite global networking was on the agenda. The natural cooperative human instinct was in ascendency.

The basic elements of what would become the Internet had all been developed for free, outside of corporations, and had been given away to the public with no concerns for making private profit. The different technologies built upon each other through the efforts of a highly distributed network of engineers all over the world. Each piece built upon the foundation laid by another.

TCP/IP was created as a basic protocol to communicate between computers (3) and was available to everyone, although funded by ARPANET, which was a project of DARPA, which was and still is part of the Defense Department. These days DARPA is working on different technologies, like drones.

TCP/IP established the foundation on top of which came email, which uses protocols such as SMTP, POP and IMAP. The key thing is all these use TCP/IP for the actual transmission. HTTP which is the basis for the WWW also uses TCP/IP. So do Instant messaging and everything else we’ve come to enjoy using.

TCP/IP led to email and HTTP. Tim Berners-Lee, working at CERN, the European nuclear lab, tied the free software TCP/IP (for establishing domain protocols) to the free software for standardize common text for every computer – HTTP. augmented by the equally-free APACHE server, and created open public access for anyone through WWW protocols. A server stores information and sends it to multiple clients when they request it. This is what’s happening when we open our browser and go to weather.com. Then Berners-Lee released the web to the world as HTML markup language in 1989. This standardized web page building and linking. (4)

Suddenly computers anywhere could talk to each other. Soon the University of Illinois gave away MOSAIC – a free graphic interface. The open-source movement added Firefox – a free web browser. The basic open-source platform language LINUX spread around the world and is even grudgingly used by Microsoft.

Corporations for years had constrained the development of digital technology so they could make a private profit off selling privileged access to information. Berners-Lee designed the Internet so that it would be free:

I had designed the Web so there should be no centralized place where someone would have to ‘register’ a new server, or get approval of its contents.”  (5)

The idea was to establish open peer2peer networks, where the computing power, and therefore the choices, resides at either end. The most popular search engines massive servers, on the other hand, keep that power in the center, and use algorithms to determine which sites are featured first.

Since a server is centralized, it opens the door to the notion of customers. At this point, the contours begin to change as corporations start figuring out this Internet thing and start releasing their own products as competitors to freely available open source products. Corporations moved in for the kill.

The next stage in this trend is in the development of the browser. MOSAIC was the open and free alternative. But Microsoft came along with its own closed Internet Explorer and started giving it away for free with Windows. Mozilla then developed a free and superior open-source browser. Corporations struggled to develop a browser superior to this, but it now carries the bulk of Internet traffic.

Why do corporations give hardware and software away for free? Because they see a lot more profit potential in getting other corporations and citizens locked into their ecosystems. The race is to become the platform. Apple has successfully done this with their complete line of hardware/software products, which are notoriously closed to external developers. Now corporations began to exert control.

Background and Notes

3)  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_protocol_suite

4)  Larry Lessig. The Future of Ideas. 2001 , p 52 – 57

5)  Lessig, op cit, p 44

To be continued.

Reposted from Daily Censored

photo credit: aid85 via photopin cc

Steven Miller has taught science for 25 years in Oakland’s Flatland high schools. He has been actively engaged in public school reform since the early 1990s. When the state seized control of Oakland public schools in 2003, they immediately implemented policies of corporatization and privatization that are advocated by the Broad Institute. Since that time Steve has written extensively against the privatization of public education, water and other public resources. You can email him at nanodog2@hotmail.com

***

Satish Musunuru draws upon his training as an engineer and his experience as a professional in Silicon Valley to understand the relationship between technology and corporate capitalism and how it has brought us to the ecological and societal crisis we find ourselves in. You can email him at guruji323@hotmail.com

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