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OSI: The Internet That Wasn’t

How TCP/IP eclipsed the Open Systems Interconnection standards to become the global protocol for computer networking

15 min read
Photo: INRIA
Only Connect: Researcher Hubert Zimmermann (left) explains computer networking to French officials at a meeting in 1974. Zimmermann would later play a key role in the development of the Open Systems Interconnection standards.
Photo: INRIA

If everything had gone according to plan, the Internet as we know it would never have sprung up. That plan, devised 35 years ago, instead would have created a comprehensive set of standards for computer networks called Open Systems Interconnection, or OSI. Its architects were a dedicated group of computer industry representatives in the United Kingdom, France, and the United States who envisioned a complete, open, and multi­layered system that would allow users all over the world to exchange data easily and thereby unleash new possibilities for collaboration and commerce.

For a time, their vision seemed like the right one. Thousands of engineers and policy­makers around the world became involved in the effort to establish OSI standards. They soon had the support of everyone who mattered: computer companies, telephone companies, regulators, national governments, international standards setting agencies, academic researchers, even the U.S. Department of Defense. By the mid-1980s the worldwide adoption of OSI appeared inevitable.

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Paying Tribute to Computer Science Pioneer Frederick Brooks, Jr.

He helped develop the IBM System/360 and its operating system

3 min read
portrait of an elderly man in a a red tie and blazer with a bookcase in the background
University of North Carolina

Frederick P. Brooks Jr., a prolific computer scientist and longtime professor of computer science, died on 17 November at the age of 91.

While working as a project manager at IBM in the 1960s, the IEEE Life Fellow led the development of the System/360 computer family. It was the first vertically compatible family of mainframe computers. Brooks also developed IBM’s OS/360, the world’s largest software project at the time. He is credited with coining the term computer architecture, which is used to describe how hardware and software are organized to make up a computer system and the operations which guide its function. He wrote The Mythical Man-Month, a book of essays published in 1975 that detailed lessons he learned from challenges he faced while developing the OS/360.

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