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Rediscovering the Internet

I wrote a guest column for ZDNet last month on the importance of IPV6. I fear that the Internet has been devolving into a recreation of the old smart networks with a lot of perverse complexity in the infrastructure. The latest calls for protection from all that bad stuff only adds to my concern since the problems attributed to the “Internet” will encourage people to seek more meddling. Unfettered connectivity has been a necessary precondition for allowing innovation to thrive on the Internet. It worked because the same openness allowed those at the edges to protect themselves against the errors whether malicious or just problematic. In fact, the so-called Internet revolution was triggered by the key concept of the browser—treating other systems with suspicion but leaving it to the end points to decide how much to trust each other.

This was a major change from the earlier model in which the network tended to be treated as an invisible extension of the local system with very fast access for remote procedure calls including file system operations. The network protocols tended to be complex and inscrutable.

Unfortunately there has been a trend to return to delivering specially crafted net applications rather than enabling technologies and the applications often build in naive and trusting models of the network. Solutions to problems such as spam and billing are often implemented at the network layer thus creating an “anti-Internet” reversion with winding and twisting passages. The 500 error coded in SMTP no longer means “unable to deliver”. It now means, “Can’t deliver by this path and if you’re lucky or approved you might find another one somehow. AOL is creating serious problems in the naive approach towards protecting its users from spam.

Giving end points the full status they used to enjoy prior to NATs and Firewalls and using encryption to avoid meddling is a start towards rediscovering the Internet as a source of innovation and value.

By Bob Frankston, IEEE Fellow

Bob Frankston is best known for writing VisiCalc, the first electronic spreadsheet. While at Microsoft, he was instrumental in enabling home networking. Today, he is addressing the issues associated with coming to terms with a world being transformed by software.

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