On the Way to the Web: The Secret History of the Internet and Its Founders

Michael A. Banks

Publisher Apress
ISBN 978-1-4302-0869-3
RRP $22.99
Reviewed by Mehmet Hurer MBCS CITP CEng
Score 10 out of 10

On the Way to the Web: The Secret History of the Internet and Its Founders The author has done an excellent job of describing how the web really started, the colourful characters involved and the casualties along the way. There are many books covering the history of the web, but many do not start as early as this book does, right at the very beginning.

As a participant of this scene during this time, I felt quite sentimental reading the book and I could certainly relate to it; it really was a stroll down memory lane. The author has obviously spent a lot of time and research on this book, and, as an American author, it was refreshing to see recognition of the early online service providers outside of the USA, including Prestel, Oracle and Ceefax in the UK and Minitel in France.

The author starts in the 1960s, when ARPANET existed in one form or another and computers were out of reach of the mass market. The author covers the early days of timesharing of computing resources via remote dumb terminals. With the advent of 'micro' computers, such as Altos, Apple, Mac, Commodore and Atari, early online service providers, such as CompuServe, and bulletin board services (BBS) were formed, accessed primarily via 300bps modems on telephone lines.

The author describes the many experimental services which were being offered at the time, which were not that different to the services available today, and included music and game downloads, online gaming, newspaper sites, and so on. Surprisingly, many of these services did not appear to last that long, perhaps because the service providers were constrained by the many competing types of incompatible micro computers, or the cost and speed of access.

The author describes how the marketing campaigns of another provider (AOL) helped it overtake the other big players to make it number one, and how dedication to a particular computing platform could be your downfall, as was the case with an online service provider dedicated to the IBM PS/1, which ceased operation shortly after IBM had ceased production of that model.

The journey ends around the mid-90s, when the ubiquitous web as we know it was formed and replaced the proprietary and disparate online services that had existed. The author does not describe the web as it is today, but that is deliberate and can be found described in many other texts.

Readers who were into computers during this period, like myself, will find the book an interesting step back in time and a reminder of what was happening before the web existed. The younger audience should find it an interesting history lesson. At around £12.99 RRP I believe the book is a bargain and I would certainly recommend it for both audiences.

Further information: Apress

January 2009