Happy 20th, give or take

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The message got across, and aside from a few renegades almost every computer on the ARPANET network was up to speed by the New Year.

It wasn’t a popular decision at the time because the NCP language was working fine for most users, and people were reluctant to go through the hassle of reprogramming their computers – things were a lot more hands-on in those days, and the switch required a lot of hard coding. "We had to jam it down their throats," remembers Cerf.

By any measure, all of the extra trouble was worth it.

TCP/IP was the protocol that allowed the Internet to expand in size and functionality, bringing us to where we are now – 605 million people online as of September 2002, and user numbers expected to increase to a billion within the next three years.

Which is right about when the next large scale cutover is expected to take place. The new Internet Protocol, Ipv6, will become the next universal standard in 2006, effectively replacing the TCP/IP.

This is a compatible protocol, and as a result there won’t be a rush to convert every computer and network on the planet at one time. Computer users and network administrators will probably be able download a patch for their operating systems within a few minutes.

This will enable the Internet to once again expand in size and functionality "indefinitely into the future," said Cerf.

It’s fitting that, just prior to its 20 th birthday, the Internet came of age in another, more meaningful way.

For years, experts have lamented that the true value of the Internet was not in commerce but communication – the free exchange of ideas and information to the betterment of all mankind.

Yet, until this year, there was little evidence of this intention. The majority of successful Web sites are focussed on entertainment in some way – e-mail sites, porn sites, gambling sites, news and sports sites with scrolling advertisements, file sharing sites that allow people to steal music and movies.

Just when things looked hopeless, like there couldn’t be any more spam or pop-up ads, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced that they would soon put almost all of their course materials – texts, lectures, lecture videos, study aids and presentations – online where they could be freely accessed by anyone.

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