Bill Gates invented the Internet?
Occasional commentator on this blog, Tony Healy, puts on his thinktank hat to criticise my latest piece in the Fin (Subscription required), writing for the (anti-open source) Institute for Policy Innovation. I argued that most innovation on the Internet had not been driven by patents and copyright, but by creative collaboration of which blogs are, for me, the paradigm example. Tony’s response starts with Google, which is fair enough. Although there are lots of oddities about Google’s business model, it’s a commercial product (as are its competitors) and it’s an essential part of the Internet.
His next claim, though, strikes me as simply bizarre. He says
The Internet was an academic curiosity until the (commercial) release in the mid-90s of Windows 95 which, for the first time provided transparent access to the Internet, vastly expanding the population that could access the Internet
I’m a veteran of the Mac-PC wars, and I’m confident that of all the many claims and counterclaims I heard before 1995 “PC users can’t access the Internet” was not one of them. It’s true that setting up peripherals of all kinds has become easier over the years and that “Plug and Play” was a big Mac advantage in general before W95 (and to some extent still is), but if it was as decisive as Tony suggests here, Microsoft would have been out of business long before 1995.
I’ve seen many accounts of the Internet in which Gates played a key role, but the decision they point to is the free release of Internet Explorer, in competition with Netscape. This doesn’t suit the case Tony is making and he doesn’t mention it.
So, I should modify my claim that nothing worthwhile came out of the dotcom mania. Search engines and Google in particular benefitted from dotcom money. This raises an interesting question for my more technically qualified readers. If there were no dotcom money around, could the usual collaborative processes of the Internet have produced something like Google, or would we still be relying on favorites lists and so on?