Although the Internet has been around for a few decades, only within the last few years has it become popular among non-techies. Recently, I read an article in a magazine (which shall remain nameless) that declared that the Internet has finally come of age. In support of this claim, the author wrote that practically everyone has Internet access and that many people use e-mail on a daily basis. Other reasons that were cited included the facts that many people did their Christmas shopping online this year and that practically every new computer has a Web browser and various online services preloaded.

Obviously, all of these statements are true; however, the statement that the Internet has finally come of age really bothered me. From my point of view, the Internet is still in its infancy, and I’m going to discuss some of the reasons for my belief.

What is the Internet?
Before you can determine whether a medium, such as the Internet, is still in its infancy or not, you need to be able to compare it to some other medium. The Internet is nothing more than a large, wide-area network that’s shared by millions of people all over the world. Thus, it would be logical to compare the Internet to other types of networks.

The limits
Currently, the biggest limiting factors of the Internet involve speed and the types of programs that can be used. I think that, as these two factors evolve, we’ll see tremendous changes in the ways in which people use the Internet.

Most people still connect to the Internet at 56K. However, even the so-called high-speed Internet connections, such as T-1 lines, cable modems, and DSL lines, are still running at well under two megabits. As you may recall, these connections aren’t as fast as ARCnet, a networking architecture that was popular about 10 years ago. Obviously, it would be impossible—or painfully slow—for a two-megabit ARCnet network to perform many of the networking tasks that we take for granted today. I think that we’re going to see similar developments with the Internet. The true potential of the Internet won’t be realized until everyone has a much faster link that can keep up with the demands of high-end software.

The other limiting factor of the Internet results from the types of programs that can be run. For example, most browsers allow you to run VBScript or JavaScript, but it’s not common to run standard application files (such as .exe, .com, or .bat files) directly from a Web site. Of course, if you have Internet Explorer, there’s nothing to stop you from double-clicking and running an executable file on a remote server on your corporate WAN, but you rarely see anyone attempting to do so on the Internet.

Fortunately, all of that is in the process of changing. Virtual private networks (VPNs) have been around for a while, but they’re steadily improving. A VPN allows you to access servers across the Internet, as if they were part of your own local network. With a Windows 2000-based VPN, you can run all types of programs across the Internet, and you can even print to remote printers across the Internet.

I think that we’re just beginning to see the true power of the Internet. The Internet has the ability to become much more than just a place to surf the Web and to send occasional e-mail messages. Windows 2000 has proved that it has the potential to become the backbone that will tie corporate networks together. As the speed of the Internet continues to improve, there’s no telling what we’ll be using it for in a few years.

Brien M. Posey is an MCSE who works as a freelance technical writer and as a network engineer for the Department of Defense. If you’d like to contact Brien, send him an e-mail. (Because of the large volume of e-mail he receives, it’s impossible for him to respond to every message. However, he does read them all.)

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