As the topic came up at work this week and I’ve also been thinking about it for a while and still nearly forgot, this May marks my 20th anniversary of being online.
We’ve had computers since Christmas 1994, but no internet connection, and I wasn’t old enough to be interested in much besides games and getting to know DOS and Windows 3.11 (mostly to get games to run, to be fair - damn you emm386, himem, mouse drivers, config.sys and autoexec.bat). In 1995 until 1997 I saw the first websites advertised in magazines, but it wasn’t a huge draw. I started visiting LAN parties in 1997 and people with access to the internet brought some interesting things with them. I learned about Back Orifice, NetBus, MP3s, and other stuff. I don’t even remember if I was really adamant about getting online.
In May 1998 we got ISDN at home and that started the online part of my life. It wasn’t really different than dialup via modem, just that we had internal PCI Fritz!-Cards, logging in went a little faster and a lot more silent, and the speed was a bit higher (64kbit/s instead of 56kbit/s for the faster modems). It was still dialup with costs per minute (or second). I think we went through at least a dozen ISPs in those first two years, always taking advantage of the cheapest option at the time (sometimes nightly was better than daily, sometimes it rounded full minutes, so just checking something was better by second, whereas longer sessions were better with a one-time fee for the first 1 or 5 minutes, and so on). Some I remember were germany.net, okay.net and a few others. At some point I was even an AOL customer. It was also a time of hopping between email accounts from various providers and some freemail providers until I secured the first domains in 1999 (iirc).
There was also RivalNet, a local gaming dialup provider that didn’t give you access to the internet, but to a spiced up chat, internal newsgroups, and most importantly, the ability to play games, sometimes even ones that didn’t work so well over normal internet connections.
The first flatrate dialup offers for ISDN came in mid-2000 and some of them didn’t really last long, Sonnet, MobilCom, NGI are names I remember. Some of them even had some specialized login application you had to keep open that displayed ads.
At some point there came DSL, at that time mostly by Deutsche Telekom, and it was 768kbit down, 128kbit up and I don’t really remember the year, probably 2001. Then at some point there was an upgrade 16 Mbit down, 1 up - that was probably 2006 when I moved. Now I’m at 50Mbit down, 10 up and again not sure since when, but I might still have that paperwork somewhere, must have been later than 2009. Maybe I’ll try to upgrade to 100 down, but I see no immediate need. So far for the unexciting tale about connection speeds.
At least I was lucky enough to not need the fast unmetered internet access at university, although I did have access to it - but already having a DSL flat rate at home worked out 99%, maybe unless grabbing a huge ISO that could wait a day or two.
So that’s 20 years of using the web, 20 years of using email, ~19 years with the same primary email address, what else? I have an 8 digit ICQ UIN with a leading 1, that also makes it from late ‘98 or early ‘99 - I haven’t used it in years, but I can still login - also I based my mobile phone numer on it (just left one digit off) and I got that one in 2001. Not sure when I first used IRC, that must’ve been summer 2000 because in 2001 I went to HAL2001 and met up with people I knew from IRC for a while.
From a hardware perspective, I already mentioned the Fritz!-Cards, of which we had at least 2, maybe 3 in the house. At some point I installed the first Linux router made of spare computer parts in a big tower sitting in the basement. I think I used FLI4L, Gentoo, and SuSE and then finally settling on Debian. As an aside, the process for joining as a Debian Developer back then was so elongated (“expect a reply in a few months”) that I simply stopped bothering and always stuck to projects where I could start with a few drive-by commits and maybe stick around for a few years then.
I only have a SuSE 6.2 manual here, so I really don’t know if this also marks 20 years of Linux or only 19, I do remember getting some Red Hat version in a magazine as my first distro, maybe I still have it somewhere.
The third anniversary is 19 or 20 years of programming, but again I can’t really pinpoint it down to the month. My first experience was Turbo Pascal in an elective subject in 6th grade, but it was mostly typing up listings and it was DOS and I didn’t really like it. I had a lot more fun when I could generate or parse HTML and put stuff online. The first meaningful program I remember was generating HTML playlists from M3U files (that was before WinAmp had that feature, I might add), written in Visual Basic. On the web front I started with SSI (Server Side Includes, not a proper programming language) and moved to PHP3 quickly. That also landed me my first jobs as a programmer, but that’s for another day.
So to summarize, 1998 was pretty important and I may not have ended up as a software developer if it hadn’t been for that first access to the internet and the subsequent years.