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From Diversity to Convergence: British Computer Networks and the Internet, 1970-1995

Dorian James Rutter, From Diversity to Convergence: British Computer Networks and the Internet, 1970-1995, PhD thesis, July 2005

The Internet’s success in the 21st century has encouraged analysts to investigate the origin of this network. Much of this literature adopts a teleological approach. Works often begin by discussing the invention of packet switching, describe the design and development of the ARPANET, and then examine how this network evolved into the Internet. Although the ARPANET was a seminal computer network, these accounts usually only briefly consider the many other diverse networks that existed. In addition, apart from momentary asides to alternative internetworking solutions, such as the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) seven-layer reference model, this literature concentrates exclusively on the ARPANET, the Internet, and the World Wide Web. While focusing on these subjects is important and therefore justified, it can leave the reader with the impression that the world of networking started with the ARPANET and ended with the Internet. This thesis is an attempt to help correct this misconception.

This thesis analyses the evolution of British computer networks and the Internet between the years 1970 and 1995. After an introduction in Chapter 1, the thesis analyses several networks. In Chapters 2 and 3, the focus is on academic networks, especially JANET and SuperJANET. Attention moves to videotex networks in Chapter 4, specifically Prestel, and in Chapter 5, the dissertation examines electronic mail networks such as Telecom Gold and Cable & Wireless Easylink. Chapter 6 considers online services, including CompuServe, American Online, and the Microsoft Network, and the thesis ends with a conclusion in Chapter 7. All of the networks discussed used protocols that were incompatible with each other which limited the utility of the networks for their users. Although it was possible that OSI or another solution could have solved this problem, the Internet’s protocols achieved this objective. This thesis shows how the networks converged around TCP/IP.

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