The February 2023 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

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.

Keep reading...Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

IEEE Medal of Honor Goes to Vint Cerf

He codesigned the Internet protocol and transmission control protocol

2 min read
Photo of a man with a white beard in a dark suit.
The Royal Society

IEEE Life Fellow Vinton “Vint” Cerf, widely known as the “Father of the Internet,” is the recipient of the 2023 IEEE Medal of Honor. He is being recognized “for co-creating the Internet architecture and providing sustained leadership in its phenomenal growth in becoming society’s critical infrastructure.”

The IEEE Foundation sponsors the annual award.

Keep Reading ↓Show less