Computer networks have been around for over twenty-five years, and in that time they have gone from being a laboratory curiosity to a tool used by millions of people every day. The first network, ARPANET, was used primarily by a few thousand computer scientists to access computers, share computer files, and send electronic mail. Today, scientists, engineers, teachers, students, librarians, doctors, businesspeople, and even a few members of Congress rely on the Internet and other networks to communicate with their colleagues, receive electronic journals, access bulletin boards, log onto databases, and use remote computers and other equipment.
In the last few years, we have witnessed the democratization and commercialization of the Internet. Today, the network connects not only the top research laboratories and universities but also small colleges, businesses, libraries, and schools throughout the world. The growth of commercial networks has enabled much broader access to the government-subsidized portions of the Internet. And that growth is accelerating because the telecommunications and computer industries have recognized the commercial potential of high-speed, interactive networking and have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in developing new switching technology and new applications for networks.
Since I first became interested in high-speed networking almost seventeen years ago, there have been many major advances both in the technology and in public awareness. Articles on high-speed networks are commonplace in major newspapers and in news magazines. In contrast, when as a House member in the early 1980s I called for creation of a national network of "information superhighways," the only people interested were the manufacturers of optical fiber. Back then, of course, high-speed meant 56,000 bits per second. Today we are building a national information infrastructure that will carry billions of bits of data per second, serve thousands of users simultaneously, and transmit not only electronic mail and data files but voice and video as well.
Unfortunately, it is not easy to keep track of all the new developments in networking. According to some recent estimates, the amount of traffic on the Internet has been increasing 10 percent per month, and the number of new applications and services has been growing almost as quickly. You can now access thousands of different databases and bulletin boards on everything from medieval French literature to global warming. Since the Internet is a network of networks, there is no one place to go for information on what's available and how to access it. Most users have to rely on friends and colleagues for information on the Internet.
That is why I welcome the revised edition of The Internet Companion. It provides a valuable primer on the Internet, explains the "rules of the road," and provides step-by-step instructions on accessing many of the information resources available through the Internet. It should help both new and experienced Internet users learn how to make the best use of the network.
For too many people the Internet has been uncharted territory, and as a result they have hesitated to explore the vast potential of networking. I trust this book will change that.
Vice President Al Gore
Copyright © 1994 by Tracy LaQuey and Editorial Inc.