Chicago Tribune, Monday, June 30, 1997, Business section, Page 1, the biggest
article on the page. The article is "A thin wire is loaded with immense
import", written by James Coates, Tribune Computer Writer. The sidebar is by
Laura Maychruk and Rick Tuma, who must be trying to corner the market in
I don't usually read Coates's articles, but now I think I'll have to
start. He's generally okay doing basic stuff like describing software
features as seen by an end user, but is clearly in over his head when it
comes to the actual technical aspects.
He did stir up a hornet's nest a while back with some accidentally on-target
critiques of Apple. In the most egregious example of how the Mac Evangelista
has outlived his usefulness, Kawasaki got his 97%ers to spam Coates with asinine
complaints. It was tacky enough that one could make a plausible conspiracy
theory out of it, left as an exercise for the reader.
Here's the accompanying article. It doesn't have the concentrated
freebase flavor of the sidebar, but it has its flashes of dull
brilliance nonetheless. Some of it would be more appropriate for The
Onion. I find it embarrassing to have this coming from my daily paper.
The best place to start grasping how and why the great global system of
computer networks called the Internet works is to pause and think about
a piece of wire about as long as your index finger.
Wire was around for a long time before some genius figured out that if
it were bent in just the right series of loops, it would be much more
than a mere piece of wire.
It would be a paper clip.
Or, if you bopped it with a hammer to flatten one end and then bent it
in half, it would be a safety pin.
The world will never be the same as it was before we learned how to bend
wire into paper clips and safety pins.
And so it is with the Internet, which now gives every sign of being the
biggest business revolution to hit America since the advent of the
first IBM mainframe computer -- not to mention the advent of the first
The piece of wire that gets bent to make the safety pin called Internet
is called TCP/IP.
It is TCP/IP that lets the Walt Disney Co. put the huge content of its
movie studios, television networks, magazines and other holdings on the
Internet, where an estimated 40 million users worldwide can tap into
clips of Mickey Mouse or archived commentaries by ABC's Peter Jennings.
On Tuesday, TCP/IP will let Illinois Comptroller Loleta Didrickson put
on the Internet, and thus a mouse click away from every modem-connected
computer on Earth, the huge databases listing every check the State of
Illinois has sent to or received from every casino, every nursing home,
every law firm and every construction company doing business with the
TCP/IP is the trick that lets United Parcel Service tell customers who
visit its web site the exact location -- as best UPS knows it -- of
every parcel in the system.
John Patrick, chief of Internet strategy at International Business
Machines Corp., said during a visit to Chicago last week, "This company
is undergoing the biggest revolution it has seen in 30 years, as our
customers and the rest of the world come to realize that this strange
thing called TCP/IP is utterly changing the way we look at our
computers and at how our businesses talk to customers."
TCP/IP, Patrick said, is "as clean and simple a concept as the safety
It is not itself a wire but, rather, a way to make information move
down all the wires in the world that make up the global telephone
TCP stands for transmission control protocol. It was developed in 1974
by the Pentagon as part of a project to enhance security in moving
research documents back and forth among weapon scientists.
It broke down each document into small bits, called packets, that then
could be sent across the enormously complex global phone system in
bursts each lasting a fraction of a second.
On the sending end of a message, TCP lets each bit of the overall
message take whatever route was open at the precise second it left the
At the receiving end, TCP collected all the packets and reassembled
them into the original message. If a packet was missing, the receiving
TCP machine would tell the sending machine to send that bit again, over
a different route.
This bomb-proof system worked great for sending documents among
organizations the knew each other's procedures, but it needed
refinements to make a system where far more diverse material could move
The Internet protocol, or IP, was developed in 1978 to work in concert
with TCP, and thus the network became TCP/IP.
Among other things that became possible with the addition of IP were
the first really workable e-mail applications with SMTP, for simple
mail transfer protocol.
The later additions that worked through TCP/IP included two that were
developed at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana campus --
Telnet and Mosaic.
Telnet lets anybody with a computer anywhere on the Internet link up
with any other computer on the Internet, including huge IBM mainframes,
and then permits the remote user to issue commands to the host machine.
The most common use of Telnet was to let students at remote computers
log on to the big machines holding library card catalogs and other
large academic databases.
Mosaic was the stroke of genius that took yet another protocol called
HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol) and allowed computers to display all
the content moving on the Internet as graphical screens filled with
pictures and clickable icons known today as the World Wide Web.
"This World Wide Web use of TCP/IP was a very big deal. No it was a
huge deal," said IBM's Patrick.
"It lets anybody anywhere on the Earth with a computer call up all the
great databases of the world and use them just as we used to do with
terminals in offices."
It has taken American business leaders a long time to see the potential
here, Patrick said. They are beginning to realize that they can use
the Internet to put their customers in reach of their products,
services and information by letting those customers use the same
machines that once were the sole domain of data-processing personnel.
Thus UPS always had terminals within its own ranks showing where each
package was in the system.
It was "ridiculously easy," Patrick said, to simply use TCP/IP to wire
customers into the same data via Web browser software that's commonly
available to home computer users.
"Corporate leaders were pretty slow to grasp this aspect of the
Internet," he added.
"Until they realized that the Web could be a window on business
processes, these companies tended to see the Web as just another way to
do advertising. They would call up the marketing department and say,
'Do us a Web site,' without realizing just what a powerful tool they
had to reach their customers."
Patrick credited an IBM project, putting virtually the entire content
of the U.S. Patent Office file dating back to 1971 on-line, with
showing corporate players how they can hot-wire their own databases to
the Web and reap the benefits of instant communications with customers.
The Web site uses IBM equipment to allow anybody who logs on to search
an enormous database of the content of 3,000 CD-ROMs that hold every
patent issued since Jan. 5, 1971.
"This information was being searched inside the patent office as a
matter of routine by clerks every day, and adding the Web just amounted
to allowing the public a way to sit down themselves and read public
information," Patrcik said.
IBM faces stiff competition from players like Oracle Corp., which
specializes in creating software to search huge corporate databases and
relate the various bits of information each contains.
Likewise, companies such as Microsoft Corp. and Apple Computer Inc.'s
Claris Corp. subsidiary have released many products that allow
much-smaller businesses and even individuals to build Web sites that
can search databases created in products like Microsoft Access and
Claris File Pro.
While describing last week the Illinois comptroller's efforts to put
her databases on the Web, Jerry Mechling, director of the Strategic
Computing in the Public Interest program at Harvard University, said,
"Up to now, the prevailing model of getting information about
government has been to go to someone's office and ask.
"Now," he added, "all anyone has to do is get on a network, any time of
And that network has a name. It is called TCP/IP.
You can look it up on-line at the patent office at www.ibm.com/patents.
It's number 5535199.
Staff writer Jeremy Manier contributed to this report.
"Is there anything more beautiful than a beautiful, beautiful flamingo, flying
across in front of a beautiful sunset? And he's carrying a very beautiful rose
in his beak, and also he's carrying a very beautiful painting with his feet.
And also, you're drunk." Jack Handey