Internet`s impact on software inovation

Internet`s impact on software inovation
Chapter 9: Internet’s impact on software
innovation
“NCSA Mosaic is a network navigational tool that allows the user access to
networked information at the click of a button. Mosaic users can view text, image,
movie and audiofiles.” Gordon Housworth, CompuServe 721 lo,1666
or years, the Internet has been difficult to use. The ability to collaborate via
electronic mail at low cost virtually anywhere in the world has motivated
millions of users to master an archane system. The Internet’s roots are deep
within the UNIX operating system. For those familiar with the cheerful icons and
graphical devices of Macintosh, Windows or X-Windows, the commands required
to accomplish even the simplest of tasks are cryptic. Because the Internet is a
construct built of thousands of different computer networks, there is no single set
of commands that can reliably be used in these different systems.
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Newcomers to Internet learn the commands of their home system, use them when
navigating to another system, and discover that the commands no longer work or
do not work as they do on the user’s home system. One of the trademarks of an
Internet expert is a grasp of different commands to accomplish specific tasks; for
example, ending a session on a remote computer quickly and easily. Beginners often
turn off their computer or simply unplug the network connection.
A newcomer to the Internet requires one or two handbooks. The multiplicity of
systems, sources and commands that are part of the fabric of the Internet can be
confusing to an expert, overwhelming to a newcomer. Because the Internet has
exploited the UNIX operating system, a reference guide to UNIX commands and
conventions is useful as well.
A person exploring the Internet confronts a system of systems. There are basic
functions of the Internet that most users encounter early in their forays into
cyberspace. Electronic mail, ftp (file transfer protocol) and various types of online
discussions are ubiquitous. The commands to send, receive, delete and file messages are seen as part of the system.
Complicating the software issue is the communications software used to connect
to a system that provides Internet access. Because of the wide range of commercial
software programs that can be used to connect with Internet nodes or third-parties
providing intermediated access to an Internet node, it is helpful to keep in mind that
software loaded on one’s personal computer poses its own challenges.
Once the access software has been mastered, the person wanting to explore the
Internet must confront the Internet itself as it is represented on the local node or
intermediary system the users has selected. In a nutshell, the layers of software are
often confusing and difficult to differentiate.
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But the number of new users of the Internet has created a significant market for
easier-to-use tools. As a result, rapid software innovation is underway.
1. Electronic Mail: a core application
The ability to send and receive messages at low or no cost has made electronic mail
the foundation of a significant portion of Internet usage. It is impossible to untangle
electronic messaging from other types of services.
Electronic mail is activated by selecting mail from a menu, entering the command
mail, or clicking on an icon. Unlike traditional paper-based mail, Internet mail can
consist of text or different types of information, including sound, pictures, even
video footage. In comparison with most commercial mail services, the Internet mail
capability is more flexible and performs with remarkable speed. Most messages
arrive within minutes of their being sent. The delays are minimal even compared
to those encountered on such commercial services as CompuServe, which offers
its customers an Internet mail forwarding function. In general, data transfers via
the Internet are surprisingly fast despite the surge in usage that Internet has
experienced in the last twelve months.
Typical electronic mail applications include:
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Routine communications with colleagues.
Interactions with peers or those with similar interests throughout the world.
Obtaining messages on specific topics automatically.
Retrieving text, image and executable files.
Statistics about the Internet count packets of information, not the users’ intent for
those packets. One indication of the importance of the Internet as a communication
medium is the sense that an Internet address is becoming more and more important
in personal, business and professional life. With the range of Internet addresses and
their complexity, UNIX allows the user to set an ‘alias’ for frequently used
addresses. An alias is an nickname that is easily remembered. When an alias is set
and used in the address block of an electronic mail message, the system substitutes
the complete Internet address for the nickname. Capabilities such as this allow a
user to send a message to one or thousands of people with few keystrokes.
Other features of electronic mail include:
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The ability to forward messages to another user or group of users. (Mail
systems forward messages from sender to recipient, and they permit the
recipient to forward a message to other users. To forward a message from
another user, it is necessary to begin another message and then to insert
the message to be forwarded.
Text files may be included in a mail message.
A mailing list can be used to send a single message to a number of people.
The alias command can be used to refer to a group so a terse address sends
the message to people whose names appear in a separate file.
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Messages and replies can be stored in folders. (On certain commercial
access providers, folders may not be supported. Messages can be stored in
an undifferentiated workspace or temporary filing area. Check the fees
associated with use of these temporary storage areas.)
A person can send binary data in ASCII. An executable file can be sent
via electronic mail if it is first processed with a program that converts the
higher order ASCII characters in binary files to flat ASCII. Once the file
appears in the mailbox, it is identified as a un-encoded file. To restore the
ASCII file to its binary format, a program called undecode restores the file
to its original format. Another program that handles this conversion is
BinHex.
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Certain servers permit files to be transferred via electronic mail. There are
several techniques available to users.
The point is that electronic mail on the Internet is robust and capable of transmitting
from point to point a wide range of information objects.
Every system connected to the Internet supports some type of electronic mail or
message passing system. The basic premise of the Internet’s mail system (SMTP
or Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) is that machines on the Internet are always ready
to receive mail. When one host has mail to deliver, it contacts the destination host
using SMTP and transfers the message.
Hosts have one or more programs running in the background to handle the mail
functions. This daemon is usually named smail or send mail. The program handles
all of the housekeeping tasks associated with moving messages, storing them until
the destination machine is online, and notifying a person when new mail has been
received.
The UNIX-to-UNIX copy program (UUCP) handles the Internet mail. It works on
.alrelatively straightforward addressing scheme. The syntax is the person’s name or
handle and his domain; for example, [email protected], but there are several
problems associated with this naming scheme.
Some hosts are running out of address space. The reasons for this are rooted in the
structure of the naming scheme itself. A committee is working to develop more
robust naming schemes. In the meantime, when hosts run out of address space, it
may be necessary to seek another host with address space. (For commercial entities
adopting the Internet, the limitations of address space can pose a problem if there
are large numbers of employees, all of whom receive Internet addresses. One way
around the problem is to add another host, but the cost of this is prohibitive for
many organisations).
Trade publications tout the benefits of the X.400 and X.500 addressing and naming
conventions. These standards provide one way around the limitations of the
Internet’s approach. However, these standards are beginning to gain momentum.
The X.500 standard, often referred to as the directory model, allows a user to search
for an address by typing a person’s name. The X.500 standard is not widely
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supported at this time. The ideal of a single, current, accurate listing of electronic
mail addresses is the focus of the X.500 standard as well as the efforts of American
Telephone & Telegraph Co., British Telecom and MCI, and dozens of other
organisations throughout the world. Addressing remains one of the most troublesome aspects of electronic mail.
Finding the address of a person on the Internet is difficult. Specialised programs
like finger will search a server9s list of users and return the person’s address via
electronic mail. However, the syntax for finger must be expressed precisely.
There are two usually fool-proof ways to get an address:
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Telephone the person and ask for the electronic mail address.
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Ask the person to send you electronic mail.
Of these two approaches, the header information on the electronic mail message is
the most accurate and reliable. However, some systems - notably CompuServe
- may not be able to send messages to certain hosts; for example, the University
of Regina’s host cannot be reached from CompuServe.
1.1 LISTSERV
The LISTSERV software performs a number of functions. Among the most
important, the LISTSERV software tool can process requests for information sent
via electronic mail automatically. For example, a user can request that he or she be
added to a specific mailing list by sending an electronic mail message. The
LISTSERV software processes this request, extracts the sender’s electronic mail
address, and automatically adds the individual to the mailing list specified. Automation of LISTSERV is a widely used and routine function on the Internet.
Companies such as Clarinet use this core functionality to provide filtering tools.
These tools route selected information to users for a fee.
More commercial organisations want to link their internal electronic mail systems
to the Internet. Computer systems managers face a potentially bewildering number
of choices about hardware, software and Internet service providers. Vendors of
corporate electronic mail software -for example, Lotus’s Notes and Office Suite
Products - provide a graphical interface for information stored on the server to
which the user’s workstation or personal computer is connected. A gateway or a
direct connection to the Internet is required between the corporation and the Internet
in order to pass messages directly. If the corporation deals with a third-party
provider, the user or the corporation’s server can log on to the third party’s machine
and download mail. Once the mail is on the corporation’s server, the user can access
the electronic mail from Notes or some other commercial electronic mail package.
Although electronic mail seems ubiquitous, it is not as simple as one might presume.
It is a pivotal service upon which many activities turn. Without electronic mail, the
Internet would not exist in its present form, nor would it have the compelling grip
on the imaginations of entrepreneurs it now enjoys.
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Specialised mailing software such as that published by Computer Witchcraft in
Louisville, Kentucky, allows the user to handle most mailing functions within a
Windows environment. Online time is sharply reduced because the software
automatically messages and logs off. According to Michael Tague, President of
Computer Witchcraft: “Electronic mail is the major Internet application for most
users.”
Electronic mail on the Internet has its own set of conventions. In addition to the
system specific addresses, users of Internet mail make use of:
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Acronyms. These are often cryptic and have become a way of reducing the
number of keystrokes required to convey a frequently-used phrase.
Representative examples are IMHO for ‘in my humble opinion’, or BTW
for ‘by the way’.
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Smileys. These are devices created from the standard ASCII keyboard.
They are intended to convey a particular type of sentiment or inflexion to
the otherwise bland electronic message. Representative examples are a
happy face :-) or a wry comment face ;-) to show that a remark is offered
in jest.
. Etiquette. It is considered bad form to market products and services
directly, particularly using mass electronic mailings. Most topics attract
several dozen to several thousand participants. An electronic message can
be sent to these individuals with a few keystrokes. Breaches of etiquette
may be handled by silence; that is, others do not respond to a message. In
certain instances, individuals may notify other people about a breach of
etiquette. Strongly worded messages about another’s messages is
described asflaming. System operators may block an individual’s access
to a particular service or host.
Among the challenges in electronic messaging are privacy, security and locating
addresses.
One characteristic of Internet’s electronic mail is that it can easily be forwarded to
one or more people. In fact, once an electronic message has been sent to an
individual, the sender has no control over the ultimate disposition of the message.
One might argue that paper or facsimile mail is subject to the same lack of control.
Electronic mail, because it can be sent to one or 1,000 with a few keystrokes, poses
a different type of risk.
To minimise this risk, a person may wish to:
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Encrypt the message. The recipient may, of course, send the unencrypted
message to others.
Check the content, style and tone of the message. Electronic mail conveys
essential facts well. It does not handle nuances or shades of meaning as
well as other types of communication.
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Formulate messages offline. Responding in real time does not facilitate
careful editing or rewriting.
Electronic mail may consist of a standard message in ASCII or a message consisting
of a binary file. A person may send the equivalent of a letter or memorandum, a
computer program or some other object, or a combination of a message and an
attachment. Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (MIME) has increased the
capabilities of ASCII-text messaging. With the MIME extensions, the basic electronic mail facility can go far beyond transferring binary data and messages. With
sufficient network capacity, the basic electronic mail functionality can move
objects that, when decompressed, can yield sound, real time video and multimedia
messaging.
MIME messages are identified in the header of the mail message. However, these
enriched mail messages require processing once they are received. In contrast, an
ASCII-text mail message may be read online. (Many files are transferred in a
compressed format that makes the file smaller and reduces the amount of storage
space required and the time necessary for transmitting the file. A compressed file
must be processed on the user’s workstation or personal computer. A wide range
of compression techniques are used. The recipient of a compressed binary file must
have the software to decompress the file.)
1.2 USENET
Usenet is a collection of news groups. It is a set of guidelines for maintaining and
passing messages in news groups on thousands of different subjects. The usual
categories are:
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camp. Computer science
news. News about news
rec. Hobbies and various pastimes
sci. Science and engineering
sot. Social science and social issues
talk. Controversial subjects
misc. Any other subjects.
In addition, alternative news group hierarchies exist. These alternative groups
include alt. for unusual world views, bionet for biologists, biz discussions of
business issues, ieee for discussions overseen by the electrical engineering institute,
and numerous others.
For people who obtain mail from mailing lists or listservs, USENET readers provide
access to these messages outside of the electronic mail system. USENET browsers
allow the user to examine information from listservs more quickly than electronic
mail’s functions.
It is difficult to differentiate mail functionality from other Internet software tools.
In fact, there are three broad categories of software tools that share some of the
functions associated with electronic mail. They are:
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Commands or programs native to the system a person uses; for example,
once a connection to an Internet server is established, the File Transfer
Protocol (ftp) retrieves the file. If a person is accessing the Internet from a
computer using the UNIX operating system, a complete suite of utilities is
available. These are comparable to commands that copy, rename and
delete files.
Interface software created by individuals or companies to minimise the
user’s need for system specific commands. There are two main
approaches to providing interfaces, and they are often blended. One is the
use of a graphical interface such as Windows, Motif or the Macintosh.
The other is a text-based systems of menus such as those implemented by
Delphi. The user selects a specific action from the menu.
Agent software automates to some degree the processes of formulating,
retrieving and displaying the information that the user desires. AT&T’s
licensing of Lotus Notes and signing an integration deal with Novell is an
indication of seamless access to Internet mail from any company with a
telephone line, a network and a computer.
Many software tools are available to perform such housekeeping functions as
formatting text with line breaks, using text prepared in an editing workspace, and
similar tasks.
Other refinements are coming to market to automate certain routine functions such
as processing and filtering messages.
2. Moving data: ftp and telnet
The communications functions of the Internet often capture user’s attention first.
Electronic mail wires the user into a virtual community and an enormous volume
of textual information. Electronic mail, the fora and the news groups, bind a large
percentage of Internet users into a loose confederation in cyberspace. But electronic
mail is one aspect of a large, complex, rapidly evolving environment. Electronic
mail is a means of communication.
The Internet has been a source of innovative software for decades. The early
adopters of the Internet were those with knowledge of the UNIX operating system
and a knack for programming. Thus, it is not surprising that software is an important
component of the Internet environment. Many user-created programs make the
system work. In a sense, the Internet is a software construct first, and a hardware
construct second. The complexity of the system provides an almost ideal environment for new programs, different approaches and fresh techniques to be developed,
displayed and disseminated. Thus, the Internet is more than a source of information;
it is a source of innovation.
Two software tools enable Internet users to have significant control over the
Internet’s immense computing resources. The ability to download files usingftp or
file transfer protocol, and the ability to use a remote computer as if it were on one’s
desk via the telnet functionality, merit closer examination for several reasons:
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These two tools give the individual considerable power over the system.
As difficult as the Internet is to learn, the effort is repaid because an
individual can access almost any resource on the Internet as if it were on
his desktop.
Technical information and computing resources lie at the core of the
Internet tradition. When computing resources were in short supply, open
access was simply the easiest way to facilitate learning, trouble shooting
and experimenting.
The system architecture was structured to allow harried computer
engineers and systems managers to provide remote computing services
without having to process each task manually. Automation of routine
activities such as processing requests for downloads or queuing data for a
specialised computer or software program to process, has been for decades
a fundamental tenet.
One of the observable outcomes of these three factors has been the strong, cultural
commitment to giving the individual with access to the Internet the tools necessary
to achieve computing objectives with a minimum of administrative guidance.
Contrast this approach to the procedures put in place by the commercial online
services. A user of Dialog Information Services, STN, and most commercial
text-oriented online services, pays for the privilege of looking for information that
may not be 011 the system. These are the time charges levied for each search or for
the number of minutes spent browsing for potentially useful information. Once the
information has been located, the user often also pays per information block
retrieved. The charging mechanisms vary, but the intent is the same: generate
revenue for the commercial online service.
The Internet historically has required the user to go through most of the steps
associated with signing up for a commercial online service, but with one important
difference: a large amount of information is available for low or no cost. Until the
push for commercialisation of the Internet, most users paid little or nothing for
access. Fees for access through an intermediary are significantly lower than for
many of the business-oriented online services. The Internet’s ‘software’ empowers
the individual and encourages a different approach to the online process. Software
makes the Internet a place, an electronic community, which has evolved into a new
communications medium.
2. I ftp (File Transfer Protocol)
A decade before Ward Christenson, a computer expert in Illinois created the first
personal computer-based online system - usually referred to as a bulletin board
system or a BBS - users of ARPANET and Internet were downloading programs,
source code and technical information.
The File Transfer Protocol, commonly abbreviated toftp, provides a user with an
interactive tool for copying files from a remote system to a local computer. There
is no accurate estimate of the total number of programs available from the ftp sites
on the Internet. A number of commercial CD-ROM products have been published.
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Their contents, such as the UNIX source code and executable disc from Walnut
Creek CD-ROM, Inc., are drawn from a single ftp site. A single large bulletin board
system such as Rusty and Edie’s may house several thousand files. Tens of
thousands of files are available via ftp.
The concept of freeware and shareware originated on the Internet. Shareware is
software that may be used for a period of time without charge. The person who
finds the software valuable pays the fee set by the author. Upon registration, the
author of the shareware usually sends the customer a printed user manual, the
current version of the program, and adds the customer’s name to a list of people
who are notified of upgrades to the product. Shareware assumes that the majority
of people using software recognise its value and will pay the author. The Association of Shareware Professionals (US) provides a catalogue of products written by
its members. This catalogue is available at many ftp archives sites and on consumer
online services.
UNIX users have had to rely upon one another for technical tricks, information
about bugs and techniques of solving problems peculiar to one of the many versions
of UNIX. Reliance upon the communications resources and archives of programs
was often the only way to solve certain technical problems.
Many Internet sites allow users to access the archives stored at that site. Providing
access to repositories of software gave people a way to tap useful information
without having to make a telephone call, write a letter or pore through volumes of
printed documentation. The archives were set up so that users could access them
without having to interact with the system manager of the site. To gain access to
an archive, a user enters anonymous at the log-in prompt of the remote system.
The premise of commercial online operations was somewhat different. The customer had to interact with the online service before access to the information would
be granted. Monthly billing required a specific name and address. Internet users
accustomed to the open access of archives and the ftp tool, chaff under what to them
seem to be fundamental changes in the way electronic information should work.
What type of software is available from archive sites? A wide range of computer
platforms, operating systems and application programs is supported. One of the
rapidly growing applications software areas is Windows 3.x programs. UNIX
software is available in abundance. There are also extensive files for Macintosh,
092, Amigas and for most computer types.
Effective use of ftp requires some knowledge of UNIX. The UNIX directory listing
is similar to that of MS-DOS, Windows and the Macintosh. The user must navigate
to the directory containing files pertinent to the operating system or subject area of
interest. UNIX commands are needed to browse the directory. Retrieving files
requires knowledge of basic file transfer protocols and the syntax they require.
Once a file has been downloaded, the user often has to process the file before it can
be used on his machine. Most software and much technical information is compressed. Compression reduces the size of the file. A variety of compression schemes
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are available for each computer platform. At this time, working with ftp requires
that the user know how to decompress files for particular platforms.
Despite the apparent complexity of ftp, the benefits are significant:
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The ‘cost’ of the shareware or freeware is reasonable even when the user
pays for telecommunications (Freeware is software for which the author
does not expect any payment. Many utilities that solve a particular
problem with a program or operating system are made available as
freeware for the benefit of the computer-using community. Freeware may
be found on ftp archives, commercial online services and bulletin board
systems.)
Internet archives gather files from other sites, pooling them for the
convenience of the user. Although duplicate files often appear under
different file names, the large number of files and the number of new files
entering the archive usually guarantee that something of value can be
located
The combination of source code and executable programs often provides
ideas for solving specific problems. As a source of ideas, ftp archives are
almost unparalleled as an information resource.
Weighed against these benefits, ftp is an important tool for the Internet user.
2.2 Telnet
Telnet is the Internet function that lets a user use a remote computer as though it
were on his desk. A user in Chicago, Illinois, can issue a simple command and use
a computer connected to the Internet wherever it may be.
A telnet connection is the father of today’s distributed computing environments.
Once a user has been granted access to the remote computer, its resources are
available to that user. Security is the responsibility of the remote system’s manager.
From a workstation or personal computer with a direct connection to the Internet,
issuing the command telnet and the address of the remote computer is all that is
needed to establish a connection.
Users must have a working knowledge of the idiosyncrasies of the telnet session;
for example:
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Have the address of the remote computer
Know what computer port on the remote system supports telnet ’
Know the terminal type supported by the remote system
A server is a software application that runs on a remote computer. A machine, therefore, may
have many servers, and each server has a port assigned to it by the system manager. A port is
simply an address that makes sure the packets routed to it arrive.
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Know what password to use, or be able to experiment until an accepted
password is located (guest, anonymous, etc.)
These data are arcane and are sufficiently opaque to thwart most casual users. For
a determined person who wants access to a particular collection of information or
a machine’s capability, telnet provides a powerful, reliable mechanism to satisfy
the user’s need.
Many telnet connections allow the user to browse the information on the server
through a series of menus. The user selects a category of interest and examines the
data catalogued in that category. Telnet connections support direct commands so
that the user can navigate directories, run programs and instruct the system to copy
or download data to the folder or location the user specifies.
A session on Dow Jones/News Retrieval or any other online service is in many
ways like a telnet session. The difference is that Dow Jones, Questel, or any other
commercial service, restricts the user to the information available on that service’s
computers. If the user wants to jump to another service - for example, Dialog
Information Services or the European Space Agency’s databases -the user must
log off Dow Jones. In many cases, the user must issue a specific command to link
to the next system, log on and explore that system. In some cases, a user will have
to disconnect and dial another telephone number.
A telnet user can telnet to other telnet sites from a single connection. There are
practical limits to how many different telnet sites one can jump to in a single session;
the user, for example, must know what type of terminal each remote system
supports, and how to terminate sessions on each remote system. There are tricks
that telnet wizards use, such as redefining the escape key sequence for each session
so that graceful backtracking can be accomplished. But the critical fact is that a
telnet session allows a user a wide range of action. The commercial online systems,
in contrast, are confining, and they carry a comparatively larger price.
Newcomers to the Internet are struck by the strong feelings that surface on many
fora about the culture and community of the Internet. These are real phenomena to
be sure, but the emotions spring from a desire to maintain the freedom of access
that telnet provides. Many users find the discussion groups, the software retrieval
tools and the popularity of the Internet, sufficiently strong factors to support the
status quo. The culture of the Internet, however, is rooted in the ability of the
individual to interact with a large number of computers. The limits of the freedom
are defined by one’s ability to learn the system, not by economic factors.
3. Triggering innovation
Mail, ftp and telnet have been the triggers for much Internet software innovation.
The reasons include:
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The heaviest users of the ftp and telnet services are among the most
skilled computer users on the Internet. Knowledge of UNIX and the C
programming language equip these individuals to create programs that let
them locate and retrieve information more easily and efficiently. The
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complexity of the UNIX environment has contributed to a steady flow of
programs, tools and procedures that have allowed the Internet to evolve
more rapidly than commercial online services.
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The open environment of the Internet has stimulated an exchange of
knowledge about the Internet, its systems and its resources. The lack of
formal restrictions has allowed a continuous flow of shareware and
freeware for more than two decades. Users have co-operated to provide an
extraordinary number of programs to other users for no or low cost.
The archive system operates with little or no human supervision. Although
abuses occur, they are surprisingly infrequent. The majority of Internet
users abide by the loose codes of conduct established by particular sites
and archives. The risk, of course, is loss of the archive system.
3.1 Mosaic: the first commercial Internet application
The evolution of Internet software has been difficult to observe. With the attention
the Internet has begun to generate, the pace and profile of Internet software
development has risen sharply. This is most clearly illustrated by the emergence of
Mosaic, a set of tools that permits a graphical interface to the World Wide Web.
Text and images are tagged using a scheme similar to SGML. This coded text is
loaded on Web servers which allow the user to examine information and jump via
hypertext links to related information stored on any other Web server.
The Mosaic tools allow the user to have access to WWW information in a robust
graphical environment. Text appears in different fonts. Images are displayed in real
time. Online help and automation (macros) tools are available at all times.
Mosaic has overshadowed text-based software to access WWW services. The
Mosaic tools, developed at the University of Illinois’ National Center for Supercomputer Applications, is the engine used for such commercial services as O’Reilly
& Associates’ Global Network Navigator, and Meckler Media’s Mecklerweb.
Unlike other Internet software innovations, Mosaic has a high profile. Despite the
demands Mosaic places upon the personal computers and workstations running it,
the Mosaic toolset leapfrogs commercial communications tools and points the
direction for realtime access to compound documents, high resolution imaging and
integrated full motion video delivered via the Internet or an Internet-type service.
The explosion of interest in Mosaic has drawn attention away from other Internet
tools such as WAIS, a WWW browser that arrays data in a book metaphor with
files, tables of content, sections and pages.
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The direction of software development on the Internet is clear. The new tools are:
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easy to use
graphical
able to support text and graphics
sufficiently flexible to support the automation of routine functions.
It is important to recognise the importance the freedom and self-regulating nature
of the Internet has been to software innovation. Those who have become avid users
absorb the etiquette of Internet. Many programmers write code to enhance a specific
function of a particular aspect of a site. If this program does its job well, Internet
users who discover this gem will spread the word via the Internet. News of a
particularly useful program or a technical work spreads throughout the system
rapidly. The Internet gives birth to and sustains its most effective software. This is
one more example of how a complex environment becomes self-organising. The
‘products’ are able to compete in the commercial market despite their emergence
from an online system, not a commercial product development operation.
As a result, the Internet viewed solely as an online system is both more complex
and easier to use than most commercial services. This apparent contradiction
underlines the challenge of using an immense distributed computer network of
thousands of systems and the abundance of software designed to make the system
accessible. Heuristic search engines, graphical user interfaces, filtering tools each of these innovations is available and has been available on the Internet for
years. Commercial services are just now coming to grips with natural language
queries and client-server architectures.
If the software lets the user down, there is support. The communications infrastructure of the Internet itself provides almost instantaneous access to people who can
answer a question, direct the user to a source of information or to system operators
who can alter the system if warranted.
Against this backdrop, the Internet ranks as one of the historically significant
sources of innovation in computing.
4. Outlook 2000
By the end of this decade, graphical access tools will be ubiquitous. Users will be
able to take advantage of virtually all Internet resources without having to learn
UNIX commands. By 2000, Internet users will have:
l
l
l
Software agents that process, seek and present information without user
intervention.
Access to electronic documents that incorporate high-resolution images
and full motion video.
The ability to move seamlessly from public to private networks as
required by the information task.
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