MBONE: Multicasting Tomorrow's Internet

Chapter 4: Where the MBONE Came From


It's never necessary to know a technology's origins. Technologies exist to be used, and as long as you can do so it really doesn't matter where they came from. At least, that's the practical view of things. For anyone hoping to understand a technology rather than just use it, however, origins matter a great deal. And for any technology that promises (or even threatens) to change the nature of entertainment, interaction, and communication, using it without understanding it just doesn't seem sufficient.

Does the MBONE really promise to change the nature of entertainment, interaction, and communication? Actually, it doesn't promise anything at all; nor would its inventors and developers be comfortable suggesting any such significance. But one thing we've all come to realize over the course of this century is that the most lasting technological designs often begin with very little sense of significance, while those designed with significance in mind often come up short -- or not at all. Who knew, for instance, that the microwave oven or the video cassette recorder would find their way into practically all households in, at least, the U.S. and Canada? Who knew that the home computer would become practically ubiquitous? Who knew, for that matter, that the Internet would take off as it has? In all cases, certainly not the designers. On the other side, of course, we have the technologies that were supposed to change our lives but didn't. Quadraphonic sound. Ted Nelson's Xanadu. The Wankel rotary engine. And who knows how many more?

To say that the MBONE promises to enact change means, of course, that it holds the promise to do so. Nothing more, and nothing less. We'll look at some of that promise in Chapter 8, but for now let's examine the reasons for the MBONE's existence. By this, we're not referring to the technological history of the MBONE itself, at least not expressly. In this chapter, we'll look at the underpinnings of the MBONE from the standpoint of the major developments over the past decades in communications, broadcasting, and multimedia. It will be all too brief, naturally, but since its goal is to provide a context for the MBONE, rather than a detailed history, that brevity will serve us well.

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