From reading slashdot there was this fine article:

Why Didn’t the Internet Take Off In 1983?

Well I’d say it was a few simple reasons.  First the internet in 1983 was a very limited ARPANET, which was a big deal for an institution to get onto, let along an individual.

In the quick Slashdot post, they go on about the Viewtron service offered by AT&T.  And why did it not become such a major success, where the internet trumped everything?

Its quite simple, nobody likes a walled garden.  You can bet that AT&T wouldn’t allow people to just spout off their opinion wherever on their network.  Even today there is a limit on what you can say on corporate networks, and on corporate systems.  The big thing about the internet is that anyone can not only register a domain, but easily get access to server software and become their own ‘site’ on the internet independent of what large corporations may think, or wish.

The other thing to remember is the state of personal computing in 1983.  While the rise of personal eight bit computing, there was no ‘open’ networking standards on which to build large scale networks.  Because everything had to be licensed, and people were expected to pay big money for those technologies, people (hackers!) ended up writing them on their own.  Even the mighty internet today is more so because of hackers, and not from major corporations.  And fill the gap they did with what limited systems were available with BBSes and FIDONET.

What about UNIX?

While UNIX was a popular OS and the hackers dream, in 1983, getting a PC to run UNIX was a BIG endeavor, as the hardware was super expensive, and licensing was very restrictive.  The big ‘player’ of course was Microsoft via SCO with Xenix. For example in 1983, an Apple Lisa was $9,999. And Xenix could easily set you back some $2000 for the OS alone.

Even by 1987 a decent Xenix machine could still set you back some $15,000! That would be $27,567.45 in 2010 dollars!  And that is just a ‘runtime’ machine, no STREAMS, TCP/IP, and NO COMPILER!

$14,559 for UNIX in 1987!


This of course raises me to the next point about the lack of affordable 32bit general computing in 1983, and software.  Even at the university level the kind of machine that was going to be connected to the internet was a massive ‘mid’ range machine like the VAX 11/780 running BSD Unix.  Even back then BBN was trying to get its proprietary TCP/IP stack into a ‘base’ UNIX, which would further encumber the distribution of UNIX, while Bill Joy freed us all by providing BSD 4.2, and licensing it for free with only four clauses to be redistributed, and altered at will.  Which was fantastic, but the hardware requirements vs what anyone could buy off the shelf was.. a massive gulf. While a VAX with 8 MB of ram, a 500MB disk, and an Ethernet adapter (which was again an open standard) would cost several hundred thousand dollars, the 68000 chip from Motorola was changing everything, and was democratizing network stations first with Apollo, then with SUN.

Heck even SUN was founded on trying to bring BSD 4.2 to the masses, and the SUN-1 didn’t even run BSD UNIX but rather a UniSoft port of UNIX v7. Even from the business plan, the expected price at retail was $7000.

Of course as good as the hardware was getting “affordable” where a workstation would cost as much as a mid level car, the software however was *NOT* free.  This is where Richard Stallman stepped in with the FSF, and started to replace piece by piece all the software on SunOS with free & open equivalents.  It wasn’t until 1991 that there was enough GNU/Free software from that end to even start to bootstrap a free system (Linux).  Even the BSD people with their NET/2 release wasn’t ready until 1991 as well.

In addition take a look at this computer from 1991:

It is comparable to the $14,500 IBM PS/2 model 80, but at $2,295 it is something that the average user could afford.  And even in 1991 there was the beginnings of free & Open UNIX via Linux & 386 BSD to run.

So as you can see with the rise of affordable 32bit computing, open software with open networking standards in software and hardware that made an open network prevalent.

As we move into the future the larger question to me is, are people going to accept the big networks trying to turn the clock backwards to these ‘gardens’ where you must obey your corporate owners, never speak ill of them, and live with all the censorship.. I still believe that what made the internet unique is that not only could you participate in a global network, but you could with little investment become part of it.  Just as someone like me who had an issue with blogger being down for a protracted amount of time, was able to take my content and host it myself.  Something you cannot do in the walled garden of networks.

6 thoughts on “From reading slashdot there was this fine article:

  1. I think eventually there’s a possibility of the internet becoming censored and commercialized 9even more so!) in the next 10 years. Though, this might make system like BBS and other outdated and easy to configure tech relevant again.

    Would be cool to find an excuse for my external modems!

    • Right now ‘deep packet inspection’ is the single greatest threat to the internet as we know it today. Honestly I’m surprised that there isn’t any movements against the companies that right now are building systems to oppress, and terrorize the freedoms we enjoy on the internet.

      I’m even more so ashamed that some of these companies are Canadian, and that they are doing their best to destroy freedom.

      Such a sad thing, but its sadder what people will do to chase a buck.

  2. Great post!

    “Its quite simple, nobody likes a walled garden”

    Unfortunately, everybody _loves_ their walled/closed garden – over 225 million iTunes account, 25 million iPads sold in a year…
    And yeah, the garden is a lot larger and active than in the 80s (half a million apps in App Store, 14 billion apps have been downloaded in less than 3 years).

    (And that’s almost a year ago)

    Not to mention facebook. People need it and it’s structure, they adapt to its changes and eat it up with a smile

    “The big thing about the Internet is that anyone can not only register a domain, but easily get access to server software and become their own ‘site’ on the Internet independent of what large corporations may think, or wish.”

    True, but not as much as we would like to think.

    Most Inet users are ‘regular’ users browsing the Web, not server/own-domain
    operators. I don’t have the stats but I am sure that’s a vast majority.
    Also, in addition to the walled garden section, is a very closed garden (and hosts about half [over 36 million] of all wordpress blogs – Even bloggers who do download the open source software, don’t really change its source
    Also true for and even Tumblr – – “As of February 27, 2012, Tumblr had over 46.2 million blogs”

    But yeah, the overall concept that the Inet and its services are more open is very true. But I, like Frank, think, again, with deepest sadness, that corporations/Big Brother will want more and more control over this out of control insanely informative beast.

    • I think that is a very interesting point, if not funny how people build walled gardens on an open infrastructure. Naturally NONE of these companies could have come to any fruition on a teleco owned ‘internet’. At the same time HTTP, is still very popular as an open protocol, with open servers on open operating systems. Maybe its the memory of $500 a share for Netscape that drives many systems to be locked off walled gardens?

      Not to mention AT&T did and still does their best to suppress any new and exciting technology, if it doesn’t fall into their slow progress plans. This is another thing with packet switching has basically brought down their point to point style ATM networks. One major example is magnetic media, which AT&T had in the mid 1930’s!!! The whole era of paper tape/punch cards never needed to happen in 1st/2nd/3rd generation computers, but this technology was suppressed.

      “Suppressing Innovation: Bell Laboratories and Magnetic Recording”

      While hosting their own server, whether from home, a collocated server, a rented VPS may be out of the technical knowledge of the majority of users, there is no reasonable limitation on how to do so (and if anything maybe it is something that needs to be better documented…?)

      I’m sure the majority of Linux/BSD users don’t modify the system either, but people are inherently cheap, and well free stuff goes a long long way. Not to mention it makes commercial offerings get off their butt and become competitive. Remember the days of IE 3,4,5? big changes, and innovation and as soon as netscape collapsed IE6 just lingered for years, MS was done. It wasn’t until Firefox really hit the radar, and was actively taking share, did IE 7 get pushed out with fun things like tabs.

  3. Yea, it is unfortunate that it took until 1988 for Intel to release the 386SX. Of course, after that the problem was the software, and UNIX was not exactly suitable as a replacement for DOS/Windows. This is where MS screwed up yet again, leading to 32-bit programming not being popular until 1995. Yep, I am talking about the OS/2 2.0 fiasco. FYI, lot of stuff about it in MS anti-trust exhibits:

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