Publisher: Apress, 2012
Aimed at: Anyone with interest in computers
Pros: A readable account of interesting events and personalities
Cons: Confusing in places
Reviewed by: Mike James
This is a reprint of an earlier (2008) edition of the same book. There are no changes, so if you have the earlier edition you don't need to buy this one unless your first copy has fallen apart.
This is a history of the early days of the Internet - that awkward stage mostly before it developed into the web as we know it today.
The academic history of the computer is different from other histories because so many of the pioneers are still alive and the important machines are still accessible, some are even still working. "On the way to the Web" is an informal history of something even younger than the computer itself and as such you might think that it is too early to be committing such ideas to paper.
In many ways this is true as the web clearly has a long way to go, but the pace of change is so fast that it has already been through many stages and abandoned ways of doing things. So it is interesting to see where we went wrong. Of course in this instance “wrong” is often not the right way to put it as what appears to be “wrong” with hindsight was simply the best that could be done with the technology at hand. This is the story of slow computers, even slower modems, and don’t even think of broadband.
Clearly there are things to be learned from this recent past, but this particular book isn’t likely to teach you much of use. Rather its appeal is reading it and thinking “I used one of those” or “I remember the early days of email” . Or if you are a little younger “did they really do it that way”.
A strange and often patchy collection of incidents, projects, people and failed companies it starts back in the days of Arpanet and works its way up to the web as we recognize it. It’s a chatty and readable book but it suffers from one big disadvantage – it’s a US oriented view of what happened and as such it tends to down play anything that happened else where.
The first few chapters even deal with the start of the Internet in the form of Apanet and the first few companies to launch services on the public internet - mainly Compuserve and the Source. Neither had much impact outside fo the US which is odd considering the world reaching nature of today's internet The reason of course is the Internet didn't reach many other places in these early days!
Chapter 5 does deal with some non-internet technologies that did have a worldwide impact - Minitel, Ceefax, Usenet and bulletin boards. Chapter 9 is about the "second wave", i.e. Delphi and AOL, again neither of which had much impact outside of the US. The final chapter considers what happened to all of the well known names from that era and details the take overs that swallowed up the companies that started it all. There is also an interesting timeline in the appendix which takes us up to 1994 and the ill fated launch of MSN - Microsoft's alternative to the web.
If you lived this period then you will find the account a trip down nostalgia lane. If you didn't then you might find it hard to follow what is going on because the anecdotal nature of the book makes it hard to follow.