III Chronicles (1-6)

The Chronicles of Computer Communications

I've been corresponding with a friend recently who is an avid computer user when it comes to basic wordprocessing, spreadsheets, and keeping track of his investments, and of computer communications when it  comes to E-mail and web browsing, but otherwise could care less about it all as long as the appliance works.

In short, he's a typical technology consumer and representative of 90% of the ultimate customer base of the whole industry.

He recently expressed confusion when I tried to explain the difference between directly dialing up a BBS and being On The Net and doing (what appears to be) the same thing via "telnet".  I thought of giving him some historical background as a preface to a more complete explanation and I was in smartass mode and it came out this way.  I pass it along in case anybody else finds it useful in offering explanations to other users.


1:1 There were computers that only had punch card readers and console switches and this was Not Good.

1:2 And Inventors said "let there be a system console with a TV screen and a keyboard" and it was a Great Improvement, the System Manager in his Chair could Run the Damn Thing much better.

1:3 And the Users said "hey, we want that, too!" but it was Too Expensive, and they got Marsland Teletypewriters at 110 bps connected to the Computer by direct lines, and it was noisy and Barely Adequate.

1:4 So the Users did Whine, and in the Fullness of Time were provided with TV screen terminals at 300 bps and the same Direct Line to the Main Computer in the next room and they mercifully Shut Up for a few years.

2:1 And the Inventors said "Let There Be Modems so we can all program at home and eat Junk Food" and they were a pain in the ass to get working but they did work and it was Really Good.

2:2 And not much changed conceptually except that the 300 bps modems improved 100-fold in speed in 20 years and all of that was Good, except every change meant more Grief with the Setting Up of Them.

2:3 And the Concept that did not change was that the Direct Line to the Big Computer was replaced by a direct line to the modem, which used the Phone System (praise be to the System, In Whom We Trust!) to pretend there was a direct line to the Computer Room, which had a modem of its own.

2:4 In the Early Years, home programmers bought their own TV terminals or even Marsland Teletypewriters to connect their modems to - the same equipment that had been in the room next door to the Great Computer.  But these were the same kind of Weenies who bought Home Computers 3 weeks after they were invented.

3:1 The Early Years lasted Not Long - Home Computers happened around the same time.  They bought them and ran a program that said "Be a Terminal" and used them as such with the Modem to Do Stuff on a Big Computer at work or the U.

3:2 This did proceedeth, Very Naturally, to Bulletin Board Systems and the pre-Internet computer networking era - all of it with Home Computers pretending to be Dumb Terminals  that merely gave the User a keyboard-and-screen to the Main Computer that ran the Bulletin Board.  And one could pick a terminal emulator program; PC-TALK begat PROCOMM which begat TELIX and their progeny did spread across the Land.

3:3 Meanwhile, the Internet was growing across the Land in the wilds of Academia - it hit had a Different Idea, which was Very, Very, Good.

4:1 The Internet Idea said that being a Dumb Terminal to a Main Computer was utterly Wrong - saith the Net, "All communications should be Decentralized and Peer-to-Peer".  And Lo, though this Idea ran contrary to the organization of every Computer Centre in Western Civilization (and to every social tradition of Eastern Civilization) it Worked Like A Damn and made many things possible and it spread like a shock wave from the nuclear explosions it was designed to survive.

4:2 And when the first Internet Service Providers sprung up, and one connected to them with a modem, one was not talking To them, they had no Main Computer like the BBS, one was talking Through them, for they were like unto a phone switchboard; the User was On The Net, themselves.

4:3 And it meant that one could talk to any other computer on the Net, Peer-to-Peer, not as a Dumb Terminal with a Direct Line to Only It, but as Another Computer.  Any program you ran on your computer could talk to any other program on any other computer anywhere:

4:4 Browsers could talk to Web Servers;

4:5 Game programs could talk to Other Players, and all to the Game Server;

4:6 E-mail clients could talk to E-mail servers;

4:7 FTP programs could File Transfer to each other;

4:8 And Telnet programs could show you a terminal emulation window and talk to a Main Computer, emulating the Direct Line of the Old Days, for the Nostalgic.

5:1 And the Great Satan did attempt to supplant the Net by promoting the Microsoft Network;

5:2 And he did write (or at least put his Name upon) a book called "The Road Ahead" which spoke Confidently of the Next Twenty Years, and it mentioned the Internet hardly At All;

5:3 And the People used the Internet in Great Masses and Hordes and Droves, and the Microsoft Network in small Trickles, and Dribbles, and Drabs, and it was Cast Down into the Lake that Burneth with Red Ink and Bad Reviews (even in trade mags that did Kisseth Butt the rest of the time).

5:4 And, oh man, that was so Good it almost Hurt.

5:5 And the Great Satan was forced to put out a Revised Edition of his Book of Twenty-Year Predictions, only one year later, with "fully one-third of the content revised!" on the cover as if that were something to be Proud Of, this time with the Internet mentioned much More Often.

5:6 And he did shift his Plan of Attack to Monopolizing the providing of Internet Browsing software, and the Battle against him was begun in the Courts.

5:7 But in the Meantime, the Real Battle against him continued where it Counted; in the Basements and Garages of the Inventive, who had Thought Up The Net in the First Place, and its paradigm of Decentralization, that messy, chaotic, uncontrollable concept which giveth Death unto High Profit Margins, and imparteth Great Vigour unto Open Competition.

6:0 And the Inventive knew that All of This was still just The Beginning.