by January 3, 2012 0 comments



Sufyan bin Uzayr, Freelance Writer, Graphic Artist, Photographer, www.sufyan.co.nr

Internet has become a part and parcel of our lives — ok, that’s fairly obvious! Until a decade ago, there used to be long queues in train reservations, examination results and many other similar tasks. However, the internet has revolutionized the way we live and get things done, as well as amuse ourselves. Internet has found its way in every home and office and is no longer a luxury anymore — rather, it is a commodity! Whether one wishes to learn about rocket science or is simply seeking ways of recreation, most of the time, one turns to the internet for company (and advice, if need be).

A LESSON IN HISTORY

Internet came to India way back in the late 1980s — it was in 1987 that the first dial-up email network was setup in Mumbai between NCST and IIT-M. However, it was only as late as 1995 that commercial internet access became available in India, courtesy of VSNL (a TCP/IP access account would cost somewhere around Rs 15,000-18,000 back then). Following that, it was only a matter of years before many Internet Service Providers came to the fore. And today, India stands as the hub of internet and technology with the number of broadband users increasing as you’re reading this!

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Web Browsers

The WorldWideWeb, or WWW as it is popularly called, was invented by Tim Berners-Lee. His web browser (which was later named as Nexus) could deal with http:, ftp:, news: and local file: handles.

Anyway, for a good part of the early 1990s, the web browser diaspora was dominated by Netscape. Netscape was initially not a free web browser, yet, it had a robust set of features — including support for Javascript, frames, and even the mouseover effect! Naturally, Netscape dominated the scene for many years. The only worthy competitor it had was in the form of Microsoft Internet Explorer — which was both free as well as backed by the marketing strategem of Microsoft. Eventually, IE replaced Netscape as the de-facto standard for browsing the web. Especially after the release of Internet Explorer 3.0 (which was meant for Win95), IE paved the way for many innovations in web browsing overall, such as the advanced usage of cookies for user preferences, playing MIDI sound files and, most importantly, native support for Cascaded Style Sheets (CSS files).

However, as a last bid to save itself, Netscape decided to go open source. While this clearly did not ‘save’ Netscape as such (the browser still continues to be produced, though it lags behind most of its competitors), it paved the way for Mozilla Firefox, a free open source web browser based on Netscape’s core engine. Firefox took the world by a storm, and still continues to command as much as 30% of the total market share among web browsers.

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The decade of 1990s also saw the presence of two other web browsers, namely, Opera and Safari. Opera was launched in 1994 by two engineers at the Scandinavian telecom company Telenor. The aim was to include features that enhanced productivity, and Opera did just that! Displaying a list of favorite websites right on the main page (Speed Dial), online backup of bookmarks and other data (Sync), providing compressed images and other content on slower networks (Turbo) and creating a user community base (Community) — are just some of the many features that were innovated and invented by Opera, and have found their way into many other web browsers.

Safari, on the other hand, can at best be described as the IE for Mac users. While Internet Explorer itself was available for Apple machines way back in 1996, Safari continued to be the default web browser for Apple devices.




Recent years have seen the rise of another very popular web browser, that is, Google Chrome. Well known for its agile functioning and speedy web browsing experience, Chrome has seen a steady rise in popularity and today sits with roughly 20% of the total market share of web browsers.

THEN AND NOW…

Internet has changed manifolds ever since its inception. Let us now take a closer look at some of the factors that separate the internet of yesterday from that of today:

Web Design and Interface

Back in the late 1980s and early part of 1990s, internet websites had little to their credit beyond text and, well, even more text! In Indian context, hardly any institutions had a proper web presence, and internet had the monopoly usage of large enterprises.

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The average computer user got a taste of the internet with the advent of Windows 98. In fact, Win98 shipped with the tagline — “where your computer desktop meets the internet”. It was in the later half of the 1990s that internet started to gain popularity among the Indian tech users.

Yet, even as late as 2006, modern web design was a rather unknown phenomenon. There was an absence of CSS, dynamic web pages, jQuery and Javascript, among many other techniques of web design. For instance, compare the home page of Facebook from 2004 with that of today:

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Along similar lines, we can find striking differences in the home page of Wikipedia from 2001 and the present day:

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Internet Usage

Technology, speaking generally, has risen in terms of importance in our lives, and internet is no exception to this norm. About five years ago, internet meant a source of acquiring that odd bit information which we were too lazy (or busy) to locate elsewhere, along with emails and file sharing. Today, however, emails have been supplemented by social networks and instant messages, and internet now caters to virtually all tasks of everyday usage — be it train/air reservations, GPS or news, internet has established itself as a dominant force to reckon with in every hemisphere of information sharing.

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Penetration and Popularity

Speaking in terms of internet ‘accessibility’, India, just like most Asian countries, saw it blooming rather late, as compared to its Western counterparts. We have surely evolved beyond the age of dial-up analog modems, yet broadband still has not reached far and wide. Similarly, while 3G has arrived with a boom, more often than not, GPRS/EDGE offers a more stable connectivity speed in many areas of the country. While the number of active internet users in India is far over 100 million, they constitute a rather small percentage of the total population.

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Overall, internet or WWW has made its mark in every segment of our lives.

WHAT NEXT?

With internet and WWW playing an active role in several aspects of our lives, what follows next is anyone’s guess! HTML5 and CSS3 have just arrived, thereby opening the door for many new possibilities. While social networking, blogging and information sharing shall be the forte of internet usage in the coming decade as well, evolving concepts such as HTML5, CSS3 and other similar techniques shall definitely take Web 2.0 way beyond our expectations!

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