Computer networks are still in their infancy. But as they grow up and become more sophisticated, we will probably see the spread of 'computer utilities,' which, like present electric and telephone utilities, will service individual homes and offices across the country." --Professor Leonard Kleinrock, UCLA news release, 1969.
Thirty years ago, UCLA and Stanford University connected the first two computers to what is now the Internet by typing the login "log." Or so they tried.
"The first message over the Internet was 'L O.' Crash," said Leonard Kleinrock, the professor who oversaw UCLA's installation.
Some things haven't changed.
But as the Internet turns 30 this week, it's intriguing to note how the pioneers at the beginning knew--and didn't know--what they were starting.
"Nobody noticed the Internet, not even us," said Mr. Kleinrock, still a UCLA professor but now also chairman of his own Web start-up. "We were a bunch of engineers doing our jobs." No one knew how the Net would move beyond the "nerds' world."
'MAJOR STEP FORWARD'
The year 1969 saw Woodstock, Charles Manson and the first man on the Moon; no one brought a camera to record the birth of the Internet.
Yet pioneers recognized the power, if not ultimate impact, of their technology. UCLA issued a news release, which presciently noted, "Creation of the network represents a major step forward in computer technology and may serve as the forerunner of large computer networks of the future."
About 15 people were in the room 30 years ago this week--on Sept. 2, 1969--when UCLA's Scientific Data Systems Sigma 7 became the first computer to plug into ARPANET, which later morphed into the Internet. UCLA connected its room-size mainframe to Stanford Research Institute Oct. 29. More institutions soon joined ARPANET, intended by the Department of Defense's Advanced Research Project Agency as a way to network computer research centers across the nation.
FREEDOM RULES THE NET
Mr. Kleinrock credits the federal agency for fostering a free, open development that rules the Net today.
"This was a creative, almost voluntary endeavor," he said. "They let the creative juices flow."
Mr. Kleinrock notes the design--or lack of design--has led to problems of security and privacy, but he argues the freedom is what allowed the Internet.
"Nobody controlled the Internet. Nobody ever did. Nobody can turn it off," he said. "It's like oxygen."
The Internet was an evolution, not a revolution. Networked
e-mail was introduced in 1972, connecting person to person rather than computer to computer, Mr. Kleinrock recalled.
"As soon as [e-mail] was placed on the network, bang, it dominated the network," he said.
1991: ENTER THE WEB
Another quantum leap occurred with the arrival of the World Wide Web in 1991, which added a point-and-click interface to the Internet and allowed consumers and businesses to connect, paving the way for e-commerce.
Mr. Kleinrock, 65, today spends most of his time as chairman of Nomadix. The year-old Santa Monica, Calif., company is developing hardware, sold to hotels and airports, that will allow travelers to connect notebook PCs to high-speed Internet service. He's hoping to take the company public in 12 to 18 months.
The spirited Mr. Kleinrock is as digitally connected as Net CEOs one-third his age, with his Palm V organizer, ThinkPad 570 notebook PC, Skytel pager, Nokia phone, five phone lines at home, but still only a 56K modem since cable Web service hasn't yet arrived.
MORE CHANGE TO COME
Mr. Kleinrock also has the advantage of perspective. No one knew the power of e-mail or could appreciate the Web's potential till they arrived.
Mr. Kleinrock's bankable observation is that the Internet will change far more in the next 30 years than in its first 30; extrapolating from current Internet applications won't work.
"We've seen over and over again in the history of the Internet that a grass-roots effort will dominate over a standard imposed from above," he said.
Far beyond banner ads, e-commerce and PCs, Mr. Kleinrock contends the Internet will be all pervasive--rooms will recognize visitors and adapt lighting and air, paperbound books will have chips that will communicate to allow the reader to find the right book quickly, computers will instantly adapt to the user who touches the screen.
'STONE AGE OF THE INTERNET'
Mr. Kleinrock expresses chagrin at how difficult the Web is for consumers to navigate. He points to "lousy" Internet access and search engines, and complex software resulting in "feature shock."
"Even http://www, that's a manifestation of Unix rising from the grave," he complained.
But Mr. Kleinrock, who gets e-mail from his 92-year-old mother through her WebTV, is optimistic about unseen opportunity.
"We're in the Stone Age of the Internet," Mr. Kleinrock said. "It's going to be hidden from you but it's going to be everywhere."
Copyright August 1999, Crain Communications Inc.