ad info
   personal technology

 custom news
 Headline News brief
 daily almanac
 CNN networks
 CNN programs
 on-air transcripts
 news quiz

CNN Websites
 video on demand
 video archive
 audio on demand
 news email services
 free email accounts
 desktop headlines

 message boards




PC World

The digital century: Software and the Internet


November 23, 1999
Web posted at: 8:20 a.m. EST (1320 GMT)

by the PC World staff

(IDG) -- Some folks say Steve Jobs pulled the heist of the century when he struck a deal with Xerox in 1979: The firm could invest $1 million in Apple if Jobs could visit its Palo Alto Research Center. Xerox said yes, and a Pandora's box swung open.

At PARC, Jobs spied the Alto, an experimental PC with a graphical user interface. Within minutes, it's been reported, Jobs realized that in the future, all computers would use a GUI.

According to conventional wisdom, Apple then cloned the Alto with its Macintosh -- before Microsoft, in turn, mimicked the Mac with Windows. But Apple's work on the Mac had already begun when Jobs toured Xerox. And Jef Raskin, an Apple employee, had been exploring graphical interfaces as early as 1967. "The only thing [Apple] took," says historian Owen W. Linzmayer, "was inspiration." Indeed, the company was solely responsible for many elements of the modern GUI, including the clipboard, trash can, and drag-and-drop file management -- making the visit to PARC seem like something less than grand larceny.
--Harry McCracken

Monday:The Digital Century: The PC

Tuesday:The Digital Century: Software and the Internet

Wednesday:The Digital Century: Tech Trailblazers

Thursday:The Digital Century: Video games & Computing's Hall of Shame

Friday:The Digital Century: Computing Through the Ages


Start me up
Several hours before midnight on August 23, 1995, hordes of consumers lined up outside computer stores across the nation. Their purpose? To be the first PC users to buy Windows 95, the much-heralded follow-up to Windows 3.1.

After three years in production, numerous false starts, and massive hype, the operating system was unveiled in a circus tent on Microsoft's Redmond, Washington, campus. Onstage, ringmaster Bill Gates listed some of the production stats -- 362 "builds" of the software, 77 babies born to members of the design team -- while a Rolling Stones recording urged the crowd to "Start Me Up."

The new version catapulted Windows into the mainstream, and sold more than 3 million copies in five weeks. But Gates's real genius lay in marketing. His $200 million publicity campaign (including $12 million for rights to the Stones song) created a hysteria never before seen in computing.

But while Windows 95 did improve on Windows 3.1 -- with a revamped interface, Plug and Play compatibility, and Internet connectivity -- at its heart it was still basically DOS. And its awkward mix of 16- and 32-bit code made it hopelessly crash-prone.

As one analyst noted incredulously, "They spent all that money to promote the fact that there's a Start button in Windows 95!"

Other observers wondered if Gates knew the refrain to his $12 million tune: "You make a grown man cry."
--Yael Li-Ron

  PC World home page
  The best free stuff online
  The best national and regional ISPs
  Top 20 technological developments of the century
  Reviews & in-depth info at's personal news page
  Questions about computers? Let's editors help you
  Subscribe to's free daily newsletter for computer geniuses (& newbies)
  Search in 12 languages
  News Radio
  * Fusion audio primers
  * Computerworld Minute

Gettin' buggy with it
In 1947, as Harvard researchers were testing the Mark II computer, the machine suddenly stopped. Inside its cabinet, the scientists found the carcass of a moth. The insect had been beaten to death by the unrelenting current -- killed, one could say, in a calculated way. The corpse was then taped to a logbook with the notation: "First actual case of bug being found." But contrary to legend, this was not the birth of the term bug.

"Bug, as it applies to a flaw, dates back to Thomas Edison," says Dr. Peggy Kidwell, mathematics curator at the Smithsonian and an expert on the word's etymology. A bug's life in computing began not long after computers were born. In the early 1940s, IBM techs brought the term to Harvard as they helped troubleshoot the Mark I. The little buggers have been with us ever since.
--Gregg Keizer

Brave new online world

The birth of the Internet
Get one thing straight: The Internet was not developed to withstand a nuclear blast.

Urban legend has it that the federal government created the Net as a communications network that could survive any attack the Russkies could throw at us. In fact, its genesis was wholly peaceful.

In July 1968, the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency contracted with Bolt Beranek and Newman, a computer design firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to build ARPAnet, a network that would link research computers around the nation. By fall 1969, the company had connected computers at the Stanford Research Institute, UCLA, UC Santa Barbara, and the University of Utah. As protocols and switching technologies developed, the network expanded. In 1973, designers united separate nets in a project dubbed the "Internetting problem." By 1983, some 400 computers were connected, and in 1986 the National Science Foundation created NSFNet, linking regional networks over a high-speed national backbone.

But the commercial Net we know today did not form until the mid-nineties, with the development of Web browsers and the attendant user-friendly content those browsers supported. Soon online service providers like CompuServe and AOL connected to the Net. Today 150 to 200 million people worldwide use the Internet -- a number that's expected to grow to 300 million by 2005.
--Dan Miller

A new kind of crime

The unhappy hacker
The first major electronic break-in occurred in 1982, when a group of hackers from Milwaukee infiltrated the Los Alamos National Laboratory computer network via modem. Calling themselves the 414 Gang after their area code, the culprits embarked on a nine-day spree, hitting 60 computing systems before being caught by the FBI.

But it was the 1983 movie War Games, in which Matthew Broderick's character breaks into the Pentagon's computer system and brings the world to the brink of nuclear destruction, that launched the career of many an adolescent hacker.

Like graffiti artists, hackers hack to leave their mark -- and occasionally to make a political statement, too. Motivated by curiosity, boredom, and hunger for a little power, they range from the mildly annoying (such as the Hacking for Girlies group that brought down the New York Times site on the day the Starr Report came out) on up to the criminal "crackers" (such as Vladimir Levin, who allegedly transferred millions of dollars from Citibank's mainframe computers to accounts in Finland and Israel).

The most famous hacker is still Kevin Mitnick. Now 36 years old, Mitnick was arrested in 1995 following a two-year FBI manhunt, and sentenced to 46 months for hacking into corporate computers. He languished in prison for four years before sentencing, making him the Mumia Abu-Jamal poster boy for the hacker/slacker generation.

Whether you call them hackers, crackers, or computervredebreuk (Dutch for "disturbers of the peace of a computer"), there's no doubt that as long as computing systems exist, people will be looking for -- and finding -- ways to break into them.
--Andrew Brandt

As the worm turns
The nationwide Internet was only a couple of years old when it suffered its first serious security breach. In 1988, 23-year-old Cornell University graduate student Robert T. Morris, Jr. (whose father happened to be chief scientist at the government's National Computer Security Center), let loose his now-infamous Internet Worm on the fledgling Net. Within two days, the out-of-control, self-replicating program spread to more than 6000 university, military, and medical research computers, shutting down major Internet nodes and leading to Morris's arrest. He was later convicted of computer fraud and abuse, sentenced to three years probation, and fined $10,050.

Morris's program wasn't the first worm or virus ever spawned. Pranksters probably wrote self-replicating programs on mainframes as early as the 1960s. But the Worm powerfully demonstrated the Internet's potential as a viral breeding ground.

In 1989, the U.S. Department of Energy formed the Computer Incident Advisory Capability to combat significant threats to the Internet's infrastructure. But advances in operating systems have sped the creation of new viruses.

Experts have identified around 40,000 strains of computer virus. Reports from the viral underground, however, suggest that virus writers are working furiously to raise that number to 200,000 by the year 2000.
--Andrew Brandt

Use encryption, go to jail
Encryption has long been used by governments to secure their correspondence. But in 1991, when programmer Phil Zimmermann wrote his Pretty Good Privacy freeware to do the same thing, U.S. officials swooped down with an injunction. PGP was the first public-key encryption utility; it allowed users to send coded e-mail that snoops couldn't decipher.

When the program was posted to a newsgroup and distributed worldwide, Zimmermann found himself on the wrong end of a federal criminal investigation. The posting ran afoul of a U.S. law prohibiting the export of strong encryption outside the United States. The event augured the privacy issues that currently dog the digital age, and marked the beginning of the government's battle to police the Net.

Following public outcry, the government dropped its case in 1995. But the future of encryption is far from secure. Legislators view the technology as a tool for spies and terrorists and want encryption software to include a back door for federal authorities to decode mail. Nevertheless, PGP is still available free for downloading from MIT's PGP distribution site (see link below).
--Scott Spanbauer

The World Wide Web

Scandal in a blue dress
It was lurid. It was hot. And anyone could get it with the click of a mouse. On September 11, 1998, Net media came of age when the House of Representatives released Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's 445-page report over the Web. Pundits predicted that demand for the report would bring the Internet down. Indeed, servers crashed as millions raced to read the salacious details of the White House intern and her cigar-aficionado president.

For good or ill, the Internet had arrived as a mass medium. The public could now get some of its news from the source, instead of through the filter of newspapers and TV. What's more, the Internet reported it more quickly. It was Web columnist Matt Drudge who broke the scandal that Newsweek was reluctant to report. Network news took another three days to catch up.

But the event didn't exactly presage the end of Dan Rather and Rupert Murdoch. The Starr Report was cumbersome and loaded with legalese: Most readers just did keyword searches for "cigar" and "the Gap." And the public continued to look to conventional media for independent verification of the facts.
--Anush Yegyazarian

IPO mania
Wall Street's infatuation with all things Internet began August 9, 1995, the day Netscape went public. The 15-month-old start-up opened at $28 per share and hit a high of $74.75 that day. The world had its first glimpse of one of the late 20th century's wildest phenomena: the Internet initial public offering. High-profile companies like Yahoo,, and E-Trade followed with IPOs of their own, racking up outrageous price/earning ratios.

Today, investors large and small continue to bank on Web start-ups, with little regard to profitability. "Investors continue to ignore quality," says Ben Holmes, founder of, a Boulder, Colorado, research firm. "Rather than looking at a company's earnings, they're still looking at hype and market potential."

So why hasn't Internet IPO mania petered out? "It's the revolution of our time," Holmes asserts. "The Internet is entertainment, commerce, and information all rolled into one." Side effects of the phenomenon have included day trading and the birth of the 24-hour stock exchange. Though Holmes remains confident that we'll continue to see Internet IPOs in the future, he believes that significant market consolidation is inevitable. "Three to five years from now, half these Internet stocks won't exist," he predicts. "They'll be eliminated by acquisition or attrition."
--Michelle Campanale-Surkan

10 Web sites we'd take to a deserted island

  1. Want it? They've got it -- or at least they'll have it soon.
  2. Salon: Sometimes crass, sometimes silly, always worth reading.
  3. Yahoo: The original Web directory, and still the best.
  4. EBay: The world's greatest swap meet; weirdly addictive.
  5. Spinner: Get down, boogie oogie oogie.
  6. All the newsgroups fit to print, and a lot more.
  7. CNN Online: For your daily dose of reality.
  8. Mapquest: Even on an island, you wanna know where you are.
  9. Official Gilligan's Island Fan Club: In case you want to build a radio from coconuts.
  10. One word: sunscreen.

10 buzzwords we'd like to bury

  1. dot-com
  2. information superhighway
  3. e- or cyber-anything
  4. bleeding edge
  5. Net-centric
  6. Web-enabled
  7. feature-rich
  8. virtual (fill in blank)
  9. app
  10. Y2K

The 5 greatest Internet hoaxes

  1. The Good Times virus: Can an e-mail with the words "good times" in the subject line damage your PC? No, but thousands of gullible users thought so -- endlessly recycling warnings about this and other virtual viruses.

  2. Navy missile shot down Flight 800: No one knows what caused TWA Flight 800 to crash into the ocean in July 1996. But former ABC correspondent Pierre Salinger's reputation got shot down when he "broke" the bogus missile theory weeks after it had swirled around the Net.

  3. Kurt Vonnegut's MIT commencement speech (aka "Wear sunscreen"): Wise, whimsical, and convincing enough to fool even Mrs. Vonnegut, but actually penned by Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich.

  4. The $1000 e-mail: To test a new e-mail tracking program, Bill Gates supposedly sent an e-mail promising to pay $1000 to anyone who forwarded a copy of the message. We're still waiting for our checks.

  5. The Net virgins: In July 1998, two California teens announced plans to lose their virginity in front of a worldwide Web audience. Then it was revealed that the teens were really actors involved in a moneymaking stunt. The event was canceled, and a grateful nation went back to watching Ally McBeal.
The 10 greatest software packages
  • Netscape Navigator: Changed the Web forever.
  • Electric Pencil: Father of all word processors.
  • Microsoft Excel: The last truly innovative program from Microsoft.
  • dBASE II: Brought programming to the masses.
  • HyperCard: Created hypertext -- the glue that holds the Web together.
  • XyWrite: The last great DOS word processor.
  • VisiCalc: Proof that the PC meant business.
  • Myst: We're still trying to finish it.
  • PC-Talk: Communications package invented the shareware concept.
  • DOS 1.0: Bill Gates does CP/M for IBM -- and the rest is history.
    10 biggest software flops

    1. Microsoft Bob: Windows' half-wit cousin, now vacationing with Jimmy Hoffa.
    2. Apple Copland: Like Bigfoot, this Mac OS has never been seen in public.
    3. OS/2: Smothered by its half brother, Windows.
    4. WordPerfect for Windows 5.1: Slow and buggy; helped hand word-processor market to Microsoft.
    5. Lion King CD-ROM: The nightmare after Christmas for many Mouseketeers.
    6. Microsoft Outlook 1.0: So big and slow, even Microsoft was embarrassed.
    7. RAM doublers: Nice idea, if they worked.
    8. MCI Mail: Could have been e-mail king, but hit the Web way too late.
    9. Apple EWorld: Remember this online service? Neither does anyone else.
    10. Windows CE 1.0: Windows on a palm PC? Kind of like stuffing a moose into a matchbox.
    Later this week...

    This is the first in a five-part series of The digital century.
    Wednesday: Tech trailblazers
    Thursday: Video games & computing's hall of shame
    Friday: Computing through the ages: From abacus to armageddon

    Apache Software Foundation launches XML open-source project
    November 11, 1999
    The marketplace has changed, but will Microsoft?
    November 5, 1999
    Picturing the PC of 2020
    November 19, 1999
    Comdex: Sun touts Solaris 8 as Windows 2000 alternative
    November 22, 1999

    A guide to computer history on the Web
    (PC World Online)
    Top 20 technological developments of the century
    The creation of the World Wide Web
    Do teens determine the Internet's future?
    (PC World Online)
    Web central: The best of the Web
    The best free stuff online
    (PC World Online)
    The best national and regional ISPs
    (PC World Online)
    Year 2000 World
    Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
    External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.

    MIT's PGP distribution site
    Worst of the Web
    Internet hoaxes
    Official Gilligan's Island Fan Club
    The Vonnegut Web
    Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
    External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.
    Enter keyword(s)   go    help

    Back to the top   © 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.
    Terms under which this service is provided to you.
    Read our privacy guidelines.