Tim Berners-Lee’s Gift to the World

Tim Berners-Lee’s Gift to the World

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  • July 5, 2021
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While the idea of the Internet dates back to the 1960s, it was nothing like the Internet as we know it today. The Internet has been growing in popularity among academic circles but still had limited mainstream utility. Scientists Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf had developed Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol (TCP/IP), which allowed for easier transfer of information. But there was the fundamental problem of how to organize all that information.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, photo by Paul Clarke, CC BY-SA 4.0

After years of work, in 1989, Tim Berners-Lee invented W3, a web-like system of management in 1989, tied together by a series of what he called hyperlinks. Berners-Lee was an employee of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) at the time. In his proposal to CERN on 12 March 1989, Berners-Lee asked management to “imagine, then, the references in this document all being associated with the network address of the thing to which they referred so that while reading this document you could skip to them with a click of the mouse.

CERN agreed to the project and four years later, the project was still growing. In January 1993, the first major web browser, known as MOSAIC, was released by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne. While there was a free version of MOSAIC, for-profit software companies purchased nonexclusive licenses to sell and support it. Licensing MOSAIC at the time cost $100,000 plus $5 for each copy distributed.

Tim Berners-Lee was shocked and complained to the CERN management that when he invented the code he had no intention of selling it, but placing it in the public domain for the betterment of mankind. Fortunately, CERN management agreed with Berners-Lee.

On April 30, 1993, a few months after MOSAIC was released, CERN made the decision to put the code into the public domain — a decision that has fundamentally altered history.

 

CERN’s official document stating that the Web was a public domain.

CERN made a basic browser and the library of code available as an open license, as a more sure way to maximize its dissemination, so that the Internet could flourish.

Tim Berners-Lee’s decision made the Internet public domain, open to anyone who had a computer. Berners-Lee’s choice for the public domain of the Internet placed its future in the hands of users over corporations. The fact that anyone with a computer can use open-source browsers and software to educate themselves and earn money was truly one of the greatest gifts to mankind.

As the Inventor, Berners-Lee could have claimed the invention and continued to sell it as he was not under contract with CERN to develop the software and did so on his own time. Thus, Berners-Lee gave away a fortune only because it was the right thing to do for the world. Think of Tim Berners-Lee when you use the Internet!

The Internet of today is not what Berners-Lee originally had in mind. Today, he is on a mission to change the Internet for the good. This spring, he issued a call to arms, of sorts, to the digital public. In an open letter published on his foundation’s Website, he wrote: “While the problems facing the web are complex and large, I think we should see them as bugs: problems with existing code and software systems that have been created by people—and can be fixed by people.”

When asked what ordinary people can do, Berners-Lee replied, “You don’t have to have any coding skills. You just have to have the heart to decide enough is enough. Get out your Magic Marker and your signboard and your broomstick. And go out on the streets.” In other words, it’s time to rise against the machines.

Tim Berners-Lee was born on 8 June 1955 in London, England, the eldest of the four children of Mary Lee Woods and Conway Berners-Lee. His parents were computer scientists who worked on the first commercially built computer, the Ferranti Mark 1. Tim attended Sheen Mount Primary School, and then went on to attend south-west London’s Emanuel School from 1969 to 1973. He studied at The Queen’s College, Oxford, from 1973 to 1976, where he received a first-class bachelor of arts degree in physics. While at university, Berners-Lee made a computer out of an old television set, which he bought from a repair shop.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee presently holds academic posts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at CSAIL (Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab), (USA), and the University of Oxford (UK).

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