The Origins and Future of Open Source Software

Supervision and Standards

If government funding helped support new software as a font of innovation on the Internet, government supervision helped maintain the standardization required for easy compatibility between the wide range of computers increasingly sharing resources on the Net. Despite odes to the "anarchy" of the Internet, its creation was a closely supervised anarchy directed to the specifications of government, yet marshaling the broad professional, volunteer and eventually commercial resources of the emerging computer elite. In many ways, the very skill of the government in marshaling those resources with a light hand is a source of the sometimes rhetorical amnesia over its role. The smoothness of the Internet's creation and the building of a broad consensus over its shape created so much legitimacy for its design that it was seen less as a creation of "the government"--i.e. "them"--and more as a creation of society as a whole.

Licklider had actually started this professional network at ARPA in the early 1960s when he reached beyond traditional experts at federal agencies and national labs to gather an association of experts interested in communication technology. He oriented ARPA to establish contacts with university researchers around the country, establishing what he presciently called the Intergalactic Computer Network which helped connect researchers interested in computer networking.

When ARPANET was created, UCLA was funded to establish a Network Measurement Center to oversee the evolution of the network. Forty grad students at UCLA, many of them to become key leaders in both the public and corporate Internet world, helped run the center and coordinate with other researchers around developing the standards for running the ARPANET. The new technology itself helped add a whole nationwide group of researchers and graduate students in these deliberations to help mold the evolution of the Internet. This national body became the Network Working Group (NWG) which was expanded after the 1972 "debut" conference to become part of an International Network Working Group to promote international computer networking.

Management of Internet "addresses," critical for the decentralized electronic switching network, would be housed at Doug Engelbart's shop at the Stanford Research Institute in an institution called the InterNIC. As the NIC, Engelbart would help identify and organize electronic resources on the Internet for the easiest retrieval. Until 1992 (when the NIC functions were awarded to other companies), the function of the NIC at SRI would include administration in assigning IP network addresses and domain names for all servers, essentially creating the yellow pages for the Internet.[4] Surveying the initial implementation of the ARPAnet in a speech in 1970, Engelbart could already envision the evolution of the networked community where, "there will emerge a new 'marketplace,' representing fantastic wealth in commodities of knowledge, service, information, processing, storage, etc."[5]

ARPA would replace the NWG by a more formal Internet Configuration Control Board (ICCB) in 1979 to extend participation in the design of the Internet to a wider range of members of the research community. This was especially important as the ARPANET expanded to include a range of other government agencies and bodies and evolved into the diversity of the emerging Internet community. The ICCB was later replaced by the Internet Activities Board (IAB) which used a set of ten task forces to include a wide range of experts in the evolution of the Internet. As the Internet was privatized in the early 1990s, the private sector (led in many cases by former researchers for ARPA and its Internet-related funded projects) created the Internet Society in 1992, and the IAB reconstituted itself as the Internet Architecture Board and joined the Internet Society.[6]

At each step of its development, ARPA and associated government agencies expanded participation to an ever widening set of experts and technological leaders who, in turn, would encourage others in their academic, scientific, community or business realm to support the effective development of the Internet. As well, the continual movement of personnel back and forth from academic, government and (eventually) business positions created a cross-fertilization of ideas and a loyalty to the emerging network rather than to any particular organization.

It was the weakening of this government-supervised network of standards in the 1990s that allowed commercial competition over standards to undermine open computing, setting the stage for both the Netscape-Microsoft browser war and for Microsoft's overall expanding monopoly on standards (issues we will return to later).

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