My first taste of TCP/IP

Ronald Bartels
Dec 14, 2018 · 4 min read

The world before the Internet

At university we were tasked with writing programs in Turbo Pascal on IBM-compatible PCs for our Computer Science courses. In applied mathematics we used punch cards and dot matrix printouts on a mainframe. Later on in my degree we moved over to UNIX mini-computers using serial cables for interconnections. In those days there was no Ethernet or Token-ring and hence no TCP/IP.

TCP also known as trichlorophenyl-methyliodosalicyl, was a common sight around the house, especially my grandmother’s, when I was growing up. Any sign of a cough and we would have some of it as mouth wash. Today it is not at all common. However, the taste is addictive and lives on in Laphroaig whisky. The story is that during prohibition in the United States, whisky was imported as medicine. It had to taste like medicine, so Laphroaig made their whisky taste like TCP. I enjoy Laphroaig!

But the TCP taste of Laphroaig isn’t the same as TCP/IP. Back in 1993 I was installing Novell Netware servers. The primary protocol for Netware was IPX and they hadn’t yet developed a TCP/IP stack. A company called FTP Software had a DOS based stack for TCP/IP and some based utils like telnet, ftp, etc. When I first heard about TCP/IP, an image of mouth wash entered my mind.

SAPPI had a mill in Ngodwana that was using both a UNIX based system and Netware servers. They requested a solution for UNIX and Netware integration and so I was tasked to install the solution. This was my first taste of TCP/IP.

I was based in Joburg and was told to take a flight via the company jet from Lanseria Airport to Ngodwana. There I arrived at the airport and found my way over to the relevant hanger where the jet, a Cessna Citation, was parked outside. As I waited a gorgeous auburn woman in a smart aviation uniform and high heels walked over. I said to her that I didn’t realize that there was an air hostess on the flight! No, she replied that she was the pilot! Did I feel like a plonker!

The flight was relevantly short in terms of distance in South Africa but I’ll never forget the descent. It was a cloudy day and Ngodwana is in a valley in Mpumalanga. I looked out the window and saw mountains and clouds. Not always a good combination (and it was a woman at the wheel). Luckily, my bias was proved wrong and we had a perfect landing. The immediate reaction to Ngodwana was that it stank. The smell had a whiff of TCP in it but it was overwhelmed by a heavy presence of what can best be described as rotten eggs. However, after a few hours the smell became bearable as you became used to it.

So there I worked on the LAN for a few days installing a dual stack of IPX and TCP/IP on DOS based IBM-compatible PCs. If memory serves me the network was based on Cabletron* hubs and the NICs were from SMC with coax cabling. Remember, hubs and coax cabling! Everyone in the office went from using shared serial based terminals to connecting to the UNIX system using a PC on their desks.

I remember the discussion of using a consolidated protocol stack. The choice was to install IPX on the UINX server or TCP/IP on the Netware server and use a single protocol on the desktops. IPX was simple and great but not really scalable or standardised. So TCP/IP eventually became the protocol of the greater Internet and the enterprise.

My boys have been using TCP/IP since they were born. I don’t think TCP/IP tastes the same as it does to them as it does to me, as I’ll always remember my first taste while they won’t! It is like Laphroaig whisky.

* Cabletron was rolled up into Enterasys before being acquired by Extreme Networks.

The Other Guy

Clan meerkat of the technology burrow (braaivleis, rugby, sunny skies and computers)

Ronald Bartels

Written by

Ronald is a technologist and service management evangelist. He started driving a tractor when he was five years old and would love to own a Massey-Fergurson!

The Other Guy

Clan meerkat of the technology burrow (braaivleis, rugby, sunny skies and computers)

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