networkIn 1979, UseNet, a multidisciplinary computer network of news and discussion groups is formed on two campuses in North Carolina. Providing a unique forum to gather information and exchange ideas, Usenet grows from it’s origin as an underground activity among graduate students into a vast international phenomenon. It’s popularity influences the government to consider connecting the ARPANet to smaller, independently established networks.

Students Tom Truscott, Jim Ellis and Steve Bellovin connected their department’s computers via phone lines to communicate more efficiently. Using UNIX and welcoming other sites to their network, they create a number of discussion groups on various topics in which all users can participate and it becomes known as the “poor man’s ARPANet”.  In the early 1980’s connections around the world are established and users can talk without ever meeting face to face. UseNet is eventually incorporated into the successor of the ARPANet, the Internet.  By 1991 UseNet hosts more than 35,000 nodes and generates close to 10 million words of discussion daily.


visicalcVisiCalc was the first spreadsheet program available for personal computers. Conceived by Dan Bricklin, refined by Bob Frankston and distributed by Personal Software Inc. in 1979 (later VisiCorp) for the Apple II computer, it propelled the Apple from being a hobbyist’s toy to being a much-desired, useful financial tool for business. This likely motivated IBM to enter the PC market which they had been ignoring until then.

Legend has it that Bricklin was watching his university professor create a table of calculation results on a blackboard. When the professor found an error, he had to tediously erase and rewrite a number of sequential entries in the table, triggering Bricklin to think that he could replicate the process on a computer, using a blackboard/spreadsheet paradigm to view results of underlying formulas. More powerful clones of VisiCalc include SuperCalc, Borland Quattro Pro, Lotus 1-2-3 and Microsoft Excel.

VisiCalc sold 10,000 copies in a single year. It was one of the most popular spreadsheet programs ever.

CBBS, The First BBS

networkA bulletin board system or BBS is a computer system running software that allows users to dial into the system over a phone line and, using a terminal program, perform functions such as downloading software and data, uploading data, playing games, reading news, and exchanging messages with other users.The BBS heyday was from the late 70s to the late 90s. Originally much of the information was plain text and ANSI art. The phenomenon sported it’s own magazines and BBS networks that provided a variety of different access, gateways, message boards, and information. With the rise of commercial internet access, the systems lost popularity.

The first BBS in existence was the CBBS (Computerized Bulletin Board System). Originally a computer program created by Ward Christiansen to allow him and other members of the Chicago Area Computer Hobbyists Exchange to share information with each other, he created a protocol that enabled the sending of binary files over a modem. After further experimentation during a raging blizzard that struck Chicago that winter, Christiansen and friend Randy Suess put together the hardware and software for the system. On February 16th, 1978, the CBBS was online.

At the time, the internet wasn’t much and users had to dial in to the CBBS computer via modem directly. Although users could only access it one at a time, the CBBS spawned an entire community of BBS systems that have lasted well into the modern age. The advent of the internet took alot of the thunder away from BBS systems, but CBBS helped foster some of the original ideas behind user forums and message boards. CBBS lives on today to an extent with the invite-only forum on Suess’ website,


programming2Telnet was and is the way of connecting to computers on the Internet. Before the World Wide Web made graphical access to the Internet possible, computers on the Internet understood only typed commands very much like DOS.

Telnet is designed to allow a user to log in to a foreign machine and execute commands there. Telnet works as though you are at the console of the remote machine, as if you physically approached the remote machine, tuned it on, and began working on it. Now that the World Wide Web has become the preferred way to access most resources, Telnet is seldom used, except for special applications, system administration, and to access archaic systems.


email04In 1971 Ray Tomlinson, a computer engineer at BBN, composes two programs to exchange electronic messages with users of ARPANet. He introduced the @ symbol, which becomes the standard way of separating the user and the user’s server. Although not designed for communication among users, ARPANet messages were commonly e-mail.

In 1971, Tomlinson sends the first e-mail exchanged between two computers using programs he’d written called CPYNET , SNDMSG and READMAIL. In 1972 ARPANet was preparing their first communication protocols, and Tomlinson’s programs are included. Together with various other e-mail programs this forms the foundation of modern e-mail systems. Tomlinson’s formula for e-mail addresses, complete with the @ symbol sticks despite some opposition and it’s soon the standard for internet based e-mail.