The Internet's not just the Web - and don't you forget it

Too many people have forgotten about the Internet. In fact, too many people who work for Internet-based companies don't seem to...

Too many people have forgotten about the Internet. In fact, too many people who work for Internet-based companies don't seem to have a clue what the Internet is.

Jack Schofield


This wasn't a problem five or six years ago. Everybody knew the Internet was a communications network that could carry any sort of traffic you liked, as long as it was in Internet protocol (IP) format.

Traffic included electronic mail, computer files and the messages in Usenet newsgroups.

Everybody also knew that you didn't need the Internet to handle them. You could send e-mail via BT's Telecom Gold or CompuServe. You could get Usenet via UUCP (Unix-to-Unix Copy Program). The Internet just provided a vastly bigger and cheaper way of carrying the same stuff.

Today, barely one person in 1,000 understands that the Internet is not just another name for the World-Wide Web. It's like having a population that can't tell the difference between a car and a road.

It is, of course, extremely useful to have the Web browser providing a universal interface to lots of different types of Internet traffic. But it is not always the simplest, quickest, or most cost-effective solution. Browsers are mediocre, for example, for e-mail, conferencing, file transfer and chat, which is why so many of us use different applications for these tasks.

In the future, as broadband becomes more widely available, we can expect a lot more data to be delivered over the Internet. A lot of radio stations are already "broadcasting" over the Net, and TV stations will follow. A growing number of phone calls are being made over the Net, and videoconferencing could also become popular. Network gaming is another application with huge potential.

None of these applications needs a browser interface.

None of these applications should make suppliers feel obliged to try to cram a personal computer-style Web browser into an unsuitable device, such as a TV set, a mobile phone, or a games console. If you do, all you get is something that looks awful and works badly compared with the real thing.

It's time to start developing software that works properly with non-PC devices and non-PC data, and to stop being obsessed with the Web, or the Wap disaster will be repeated another dozen times.

Jack Schofield is computer editor of the Guardian

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