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The evolution of local networks: This is how the c’t editors networked

Compared to the pioneering days of networking, today’s publisher-wide WLAN and Gigabit Ethernet networks are almost boring: Thanks to the full-time care of our admin colleagues, both work just as smoothly as the gigabit fiber optic connection to the Internet, via which all of our company’s media – c ‘ t, heise online, iX, Mac & I, Technology Review, Make and whatever they are called – find their way into the public eye.

It was already clear in 1983, in the year the c’t was founded, that a network infrastructure had to be set up. However, the term was not even thought of by the professional admin at the time. The first three editorial colleagues, editor-in-chief Christian Persson, his deputy Detlef Grell and first editor Andreas Stiller, had to design the network in parallel to the editorial work and also set it up themselves.

More from c't magazine

More from c't magazine

More from c't magazine

More from c't magazine

A shared printer was needed to print out and proofread manuscripts, and file sharing was needed to get contributions from the MS-DOS platform of the time to Macs. On the Macs, the DTP department created the printing documents with the Quark XPress layout software. It quickly became clear that printer and file sharing services would speed up work considerably.

Thought and done. This is how the first network specification, called the Turnschuhnetz, came about: the editorial team’s only printer was enthroned on a mobile pedestal in the form of a tea trolley that rolled from desk to desk as required. The manuscript files were written on floppy disks and the several meters distance between the editorial office and the DTP was overcome using sneakers. On the Macs, a converter program grabbed the manuscripts and converted the DOS umlauts, quotations and line breaks to their Mac counterparts.

The floppy disks used initially had a capacity of 360 kilobytes and the maximum transfer speed of the sneaker network was around 6 kbytes per second. However, the editors hardly ever exhausted the capacity, the manuscripts often only took up a few kBytes on the floppy disk. Experts estimate the effective transmission speed to be around 0.05 kByte / s. That didn’t change later when the capacity of the floppy disks doubled.

The replacement of the sneaker network was indicated when the first editors with Mac specialization joined the growing editorial team at the end of the 1980s – due to lack of space, the “Macies” moved into an adjoining room in the eastern part of the building and self-deprecatingly founded an AppleTalk segment called the Ostzone.

This first editorial network demanded as much respect as it demanded ridicule: AppleTalk was as slow as a snail with at most 230.4 kBit / s. The first generations of ARCNET or Ethernet networks already reached the megabit level. ARCnet achieved a maximum of 2.5 Mbit / s, Ethernet up to 10 Mbit / s.

At the beginning of the era of local area networks, the word “compatibility” must have been missing in the guidelines of Apple and Microsoft developers, at least Macs could not talk to PCs by default. This required expensive additional software such as DAVE for MacOS.

But every Mac came with most of the networking hardware out of the box. For actual networking, you only needed an adapter box, which Apple offered in the USA for just 50 US dollars – around 90 euros today, adjusted for inflation. For other network technology you had to shell out a multiple of it. An AppleTalk segment could be up to 300 meters long and connect up to 32 nodes (Macs and printers). And even back then Apple showed with AppleTalk what the company wanted in terms of user comfort: An AppleTalk network required maintenance in the blink of an eye. It was enough to plug the network cable into a free adapter socket. The Mac automatically received an address and was ready to transfer data.

However, Apple’s pretty idea was not of practical importance for the editorial team. The sneaker network was only replaced at the end of 1992 by 10Base2, one of the first Ethernet generations.

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