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Happy 35th Birthday Internet

By Dan Lee, Mercury News

The Internet's first baby steps began in Leonard Kleinrock's UCLA lab 35 years ago today.  

The young computer science professor's team had networked its computer with one at the Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park. The plan was for UCLA to send the letters "L-O-G" and for SRI to answer back with "I-N." The system crashed with the message reading just "L-O."

When a later attempt worked, UCLA graduate student Charley Kline's made a note in the lab's log book: "Talked to SRI host to host."

The test brought little fanfare. But Kleinrock knew that communicating over computer networks could change the world.

"What I never anticipated, though, was that my 97-year-old mother would be on the Internet today," Kleinrock said this week before a panel discussion to mark the Net's 35th birthday at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View.

The 70-year-old UCLA professor still talks excitedly about the Net's social potential.

He said the Internet has achieved his early vision of pervasive and always on. But it has a long way to go before it can be everywhere and accessible with just about any device.

"Cyberspace lives deep in this screen right now for most people," he said, tapping on the screen of his laptop. "We want to take it out of here and put it in the physical world."

He envisions Internet technology embedded in walls, furniture, even in a person's eyeglasses or belt. Networked "smart spaces" around the world would provide constant access in what he calls "nomadic computing."

The Internet exploded because its founders and caretakers had the foresight to create a "stateless" network where packets of data flow freely, said Cisco System's Charles Giancarlo, who joined the panel discussion Wednesday marking the Internet's 35th birthday.

"They took a very simple concept and made sure they kept it simple," said Giancarlo, Cisco's chief technology officer.

Today, Kleinrock dreads the Internet's "dark side" -- spam, viruses and adware programs that track what users do online. He worries about protecting people's privacy.

"The fact that it's open makes it vulnerable," he said. "But if I had to do it again, I would keep it open because without that the network would never have come to where it is today."

In 1969, the goals were more modest. The UCLA lab made the first network node that September by linking a computer with an "IMP," or an interface message processor machine, which translated computer languages and routed messages. Later, with an IMP in place at the SRI lab, the researchers were ready to send the first Internet message Oct. 29. Those tests were part of the Pentagon (news - web sites)-sponsored ARPAnet, the Net's precursor.

Even today, the Internet is still "less than a child," Kleinrock said. "It's going to continue to surprise."