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Protocol Wars

Why Do Protocols Win?

  • From the 1970s to the 1990s, the goal of building a global computer network became more evident. However, how it would be made was one of the most fiercely debated topics in computer science
  • Some refer to the 1970s-1990s as The Protocol Wars, a period where competing standards proliferated and competed for a foundational role in the internet. TCP/IP vs. OSI, WWW vs. Gopher, and many more battles at every layer of the stack
  • Working code is often better than a draft by a standards committee. See Clark's quote
  • For example, Mosaic had a feature that automatically converted Gopher menus into HTML
  • Simplicity
  • Politics plays a more prominent role than technologists would like to admit. The U.S. Department of Defense was an early adopter of TCP/IP
  • Meanwhile, the University of Minnesota charged licensing fees for Gopher servers
  • Competing protocols often make different trade-offs, i.e., optimizing for computing or storage