Publisher: Apress, 2008
Aimed at: Anyone with interest in computers
Pros: A readable account of interesting events and personalities
Cons: A US rather than a UK perspective
Reviewed by: Mike James
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 recognise 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, from our point of view, very irritating. The experience of the early Internet and the web from the UK perspective is very different from what is outlined here – we had our own crazy ideas and our own failures and wrong turnings. So if you want to take a stroll down memory lane but viewed from the other side of the pond you will enjoy reading this book.
<Reviewed in VSJ>