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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Brief History of the Web- Part two...








  So, here's the second part of my A Brief History of the Web series, as I promised.   Now, it gets a little personal, because I have direct experience with this era.

  If you haven't read part one yet, here it is:





  So, as I mentioned, my family were early adopters of home Internet access technology.  That's mainly because my father is a novelist.  So I was on the web as early as 1994, when I was ten years old.

  My dad wrote his first popular novels, including The Room (as Michael Grey, see http://www.amazon.com/Room-Michael-Grey/dp/0552135593) on a Smith Corona electronic typewriter in the late 1980s and the first years of the 1990s.  It looked like this:


  So, it was kind of like an old-fashioned typewriter, except it had a green and black monitor, for easy text editing!  Files could be saved on 3.5 inch floppies.  When my dad needed to send a novel manuscript to one of his publishers, he had to print out hundreds of pages, which would take a couple of hours or more.  Then, he'd need to put his heavy manuscript into a FedEx shipping envelope.  His publishers were in New York and London, we lived near Toronto, and the postage wasn't cheap.

  As he works from home, these are the highlights of my childhood, folks!

   One day in early 1993, my dad needed some new ink cartrages for his handy Smith Corona.  We couldn't find any in Mississauga, where we lived.  So, we went to the big, several story The Bay department store in downtown Toronto.  (It had recently been converted from the Simpsons brand.)  There was no luck there, either.


   We (he) had to go PC.  It was the only option.  Very soon after that, he purchased a beautiful, brand spanking new Personal Computer, featuring an Intel 486 CPU and Windows 3.1.


   As a child, I had used other computers before.  The first one was a Commodore 64, and in Malta (my maternal homeland), my Uncle Charlie had a number of Apple Macintosh computers, as he used to work for Apple Malta.  (Doesn't this make my Steve Jobs bashing sound ironic!  See Why I will never spend a dime on Apple products...)  I owned an NES console and a GameBoy, I don't know if those count.


  But this was really exciting for me, the very first PC in the Crawley household.  My dad kept reminding me that it was his tool for work, but I was allowed to use it when he wasn't.  I'm an only child, and my mother wasn't interested.  So, I had a lot of time to get used to Windows 3.1.  Plus, I taught myself hundreds of MS-DOS prompt commands from the manual we had.  I enjoyed playing Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego and Commander Keen.


  Not much longer after that, we had Internet access.  In mid-1994, my dad installed our very first 9600 bps V32 modem.  Our very first 'sort of' ISP was Prodigy.  We also had the Mosaic browser.  I had plenty of time to discover what a big deal the Internet and the World Wide Web were.  Meanwhile, some of my dad's publishers were accepting manuscripts via e-mail attachments!  A lot of paper was saved, and time.


  My Internet use, at 10 years old, wasn't closely monitored.  I didn't have bad parents, it's just that it was a whole new world, and there wasn't much news yet about child predators on the Internet and the like.  It was a wonderful playground for me, and I learned so much.


  One of my dad's business partners said that the Web would begin the downfall of Prodigy, Compuserve, and AOL.  I couldn't see it.  Prodigy was so much fun, and it even had a section for the Babysitter's Club!  Plus, there wasn't much on the Web, yet.


  When I first used Mosaic, I tried out URLs I had heard about on Prodigy.  They worked!  It was so cool.  Sure, JPEGs would take soooo long to download, but I never knew anything different.  Even the very concept of modems getting faster, and better Internet servers and infrastructure hadn't occurred to me, let alone technology like WiFi.


  We got Netscape Navigator 1.0, based on Mozilla framework, soon after Mosaic.  One of the great features was that Netscape made it easy for me to view the source code of webpages I was visiting.  That's how I started to learn HTML.  I would compare the code to how the webpages looked.  I was ten and then eleven years old.  Kids learn VERY quickly.


  Early webpages looked like this:


                 Mosaic-




                Netscape Navigator-



  Slowly but surely, the web was becoming accessible to more and more households.  Although, in 1994 and much of 1995, I was the only kid in my whole school with access to the web, and I talked about it ALL the time.  The other kids were jealous.  They kept trying to tell me that the whole Internet would crash soon, and be no longer.

  Prodigy and Compuserve were becoming less attractive, and were losing subscribers.  AOL REALLY dug their own grave.  They would send every household and business they could find loads of 'free trial' CD-ROMs.  This started around 1995-1996, and by 1998 or so, they were still doing it.  Some people would receive several CDs a month.  Yes, they made handy coasters for your coffee mug.  But what was really obnoxious was if you called AOL to cancel your service, their CSRs would do everything they could to stop you.  Often, they would even tell you they were cancelling your service, but then they wouldn't.  

  Most people are aware of the financial disaster when Time Warner bought AOL in 2000.  The company was renamed AOL Time Warner.  The idea was all about 'synergy'.  Time Warner could provide excellent content, and AOL would distribute it.  That merger is considered to be one of the all time worst corporate deals.  

  Now, in 2010, AOL is so puny that they would be happy to be a merely shadow of its former self.  That would now take a lot of work.

  Anyway, back to 1995.  Microsoft saw what great money Netscape and AOL were making, and wanted a piece of the pie.  Internet Explorer 1.0 was released on August 16th, 1995.  MSN, the Microsoft Network, debuted on August 24th, 1995.  

   More on that, Yahoo!, Webcrawler and Lycos in part three...









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